A film by Su Friedrich
81 minutes, color, USA, 2012
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.
“Recommended. Combining archival photographs with personal video footage, Friedrich chronicles the rate and degree of fast-paced change. Gentrification is a story known in nearly every large U.S. urban area, but this time it is told from a more personal perspective. The filmmaker communicates her sadness and anger at the changes that occur around her, using both ambush and undercover interviews with real estate developers and buyers.” EMRO Read the full review here
“Su Friedrich’s film is both a love letter to Williamsburg as it formerly was and an exercise in controlled anger about what it has become. She balances her personal emotions and her sharp documentarian eye on the head of a pin. Her portrait of the real estate crowd scarfing down hors d’oeuvres as they saunter around the openings of the latest buildings is particularly devastating. The questions she raises go to the heart of what we want our urban existence to be.” Joan Ockman, Distinguished Senior Fellow, University of Pennsylvania School of Design
“‘Gut Renovation’ ignites and engages college audiences. Like Jane Jacobs, Friedrich surveys her neighborhood from her apartment window, except that in Friedrich’s case, what she sees from her Williamsburg, Brooklyn window makes her “crazy angry.” While watching the film, student audiences are torn. Young people recognize the injustices of gentrification, and want to better understand and address its specific causes, yet they also feel the pull of the hip condominium world that has pushed out artists and homegrown business. Friedrich’s personal approach frames the problem with humor, outrage, and panic. Ultimately, students experience the facelessness of Friedrich’s enemy. They leave wanting to know more.” Alison Isenberg, Professor of History and Co-Director of the Urban Studies Program at Princeton University; Past President, Society for American City and Regional Planning History