Gut Renovation

A film by Su Friedrich
81 minutes, color, USA, 2012

File under: Civil Rights, Environment, Film Studies, LGBT Studies, Sustainability, Urban Studies


A documentary of small changes evolves into an historical record of New York. The resulting film is a melancholy, essayistic requiem for a neighborhood and an entire way of life; it also provides a case study of the rapid gentrification of our cities.

In 1989, together with a group of female friends, Su Friedrich rented and renovated an old loft in Williamsburg, an unassuming working-class district of Brooklyn. In 2005 this former industrial zone was designated a residential area and the factories, manufacturers and artists’ lofts were priced out by property speculators lured by tax breaks. Friedrich spent five years documenting with her camera the changes in the area between East River and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. She shows the demolition of industrial buildings and the construction of trendy new apartments for wealthy clients, watching old tenants leave and new inhabitants arrive. As she keeps meticulous record of developments, the extent and speed of the upheaval becomes clear. Her own tenancy agreement expires too and so her documentary images and trenchant commentary become the tools of her growing anger.


“‘Gut Renovation’ is an ideal accompaniment for any course that discusses the costs of gentrification and the impact of growing inequalities on the middle classes as well as the poor…As Friedrich documents the process of her own eviction, we learn more than any treatise could tell us about the political and economic underpinnings of gentrification and the emotional costs of displacement.” Ida Susser, Professor, Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center

“‘Gut Renovation’ gives students the impetus to look at—and mark, research, explore, and fight for—their own environment. The film makes personal the larger forces of urban development, gentrification and demographic changes and, in doing so, not only shows the profound effects of these structural changes but also how people can intervene in them.” Julia Foulkes, Associate Professor, The New School

“Su Friedrich…has made the most salient and personal film about Brooklyn’s ever-changing face since Hal Ashby’s The Landlord appeared in theaters some 43 years ago. ‘Gut Renovation’ is bound to polarize audiences. It’s a polemical howl in the night, a desperately angry and sidesplittingly funny look at one oh-so-mythologized neighborhood’s transformation…[It’s] a film essay that is of a piece with the work of heady French names like Godard and Varda.” Brandon Harris, Filmmaker Magazine
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