The film, which is still seeking a distributor, will make its premiere on Sunday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as the centerpiece of BAMcinemaFest. The festival is also presenting “Our Song” on Thursday in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
In an interview on a sweltering June day, sitting next to the Sunset Park soccer field where climactic scenes of “En el Séptimo Día” were shot, Mr. McKay talked about his preference for working locally.
“I just feel like, why not?” he said. “Why not stay here, because there’s so much here. It being the city of a million stories. Des Moines is not the city of a million stories. It’s probably the city of a couple hundred thousand stories. I’m not dissing Des Moines. There’s tons of great stories to be made everywhere. There’s tons more here.”
Based on a screenplay Mr. McKay began 15 years ago and set aside, “Séptimo Día” records a week in the lives of soccer players on a Sunset Park team. They are all immigrants from the Mexican state of Puebla, and most of them share a small apartment in the neighborhood.
As the film opens, the team wins its semifinal, making it to the championship match the next Sunday. But on Monday, the star, a delivery man named José (Fernando Cardona), is informed by the boss of the upscale Carroll Gardens restaurant where he works that he’ll be needed the day of the match — usually his day off.
From there, the film takes on a classic comedy structure — as the days count down, will José find a way to play? — while maintaining Mr. McKay’s seemingly simple, neo-realistic style and deep sense of place. Brooklynites will call out the locations — the restaurant Buttermilk Channel, the towering curve where the F train enters the Ninth Street station — and other New Yorkers will react in various ways to the scenes of delivery men pedaling furiously through the streets.
Mr. McKay, a white filmmaker originally from New Jersey, is telling someone else’s story, but that’s the attraction. “When I go to the movies, I don’t want to see my story,” he said. “I don’t want to see a story about me and my friends. I don’t ever want to make a movie about an actor, about a writer.
“I like to listen to language, and I like to observe behavior and how people communicate. And then take that and make it into something, and then work with people who will bring their own thing to it and who will sometimes tell me, ‘Oh we would say it this way,’ which is a great thing.”
The dozen or so central members of the cast were nonprofessional actors, many of them originally from Puebla, who were recruited at open auditions and on Sunset Park streets. “We started going out with a video camera and a little four-person crew so that I could say, ‘That guy there,’” Mr. McKay recalled. “I think sometimes you can look at someone and go, ‘They’ve got something.’” Mr. Cardona, spotted while he was running, was one of those people.
Responding by email through a translator, Mr. Cardona said: “My first impression when they stopped me on the street was, maybe it was a prank. But when I saw Jim and other people with cameras, I thought, ‘Oh, they’re trying to do something with people like me, and Sunset Park, the people who are Mexican and playing soccer.’ At that moment, I thought, ‘Oh, they’re trying to do something real.’”
That reality crucially includes José’s conflicted feelings. Some viewers may find it hard to accept that playing in a soccer match could be worth risking a job for a character who’s saving to bring his pregnant wife to America.
“It’s very easy for people to just say: ‘Shut up. Work. What are you, crazy?’” Mr. McKay said. “Yeah, on a certain level that makes sense, but on a whole other level, it makes no sense. You deserve a day off.”
“En el Séptimo Día” doesn’t make explicit political statements — Mr. McKay identifies its subject as “human dignity” and says it could have been made about ice fishermen in Minnesota. But he acknowledges that the election of Donald J. Trump, with his proposal for a wall at the Mexican border, has made it more relevant than ever.
“I’m going to buy a digital projector and a screen and a pair of speakers, and I want to know that I can take it to a church basement, anywhere in the country, and show it,” he said. “I’m hoping that the film gets played like that.”