LOWER EAST SIDE — A new documentary film chronicling the history and recent closure of longtime neighborhood staple Streit’s Matzos will premiere during the week of Passover as the nearly century-old Rivington Street factory faces demolition, offering insight into the hurdles that led to the shuttering.
When filmmaker Michael Levine began filming “Streit’s Matzo and the American Dream” in early 2013, the family-owned business was still committed to churning out matzo in the factory that had been its headquarters since 1925. But news of the closure broke in early 2015 as Levine was in the final stages of editing, and his project has since become a window into a family business’ struggle to stay afloat in a changing neighborhood.
“It came as a shock, on a personal level and as a filmmaker,” said Levine. “I had to figure out what to do now that the story had changed — it started off as a history, then evolved into a chronicle of the challenges they faced and ultimately the decision they made to close.”
The business opted to shutter the factory and shift production to Rockland County because it was no longer economically feasible to keep the massive operation up and running in a crumbling tenement building with outdated equipment, said the great-grandson of the original matzo maker after revealing the decision.
The slice of history will soon be replaced by a sprawling condominium development — developer Cogswell Realty swiped up the property bordered by Suffolk and Clinton streets, and has filed plans to demolish part of the structure to make way for a 7-story, 45-unit luxury residence.
Levine, a longtime local whose family has been in the Lower East Side for generations, wanted to take on the project as a tribute to the historic neighborhood and a celebration of the rich immigrant history that laid it foundations.
“I’ve always felt a really deep connection to the place because of my own family history,” he said. “As a filmmaker, I always wanted to do something related to the history of the neighborhood.”
The documentary — showing April 20 to 26 at Film Forum on West Houston Street — will showcase the factory’s storied past and importance to the community. Levine hopes it engenders an appreciation for the old neighborhood standby as the community prepares to watch it go.
“It would be wonderful if the building were able to stay, but I think in that sense it’s good timing,” he said. “People can celebrate the history of what went on there and get perspective on what places like that mean to the city.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the location of Streit's Matzos's new factory. Streit's will be moving production to Rockland County, NY as of Passover 2017.