Gut Renovation Whines at Williamsburg's Newer Residents

Su Friedrich is a sucker for nostalgia but not necessarily for history. Her doc Gut Renovation opens with a 1908 black-and-white photo of the Hecla Iron Works Building on North 11th Street in Williamsburg. Her interest is not in the building’s past but her own; she cares because she used to live there. Switching to handheld color, Friedrich swings her camera into an empty sunlit loft space on one of the building’s upper floors, where she used to live with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s ex. It’s empty now; a flock of pigeons swoops down. “Oh my God, there’s birds!” she calls from behind the camera. The film, in which Friedrich chronicles the rapid gentrification of Williamsburg that followed its rezoning in 2005, is distinguished from other treatments of these topics by its whinyness. While Friedrich does acknowledge the many small, local businesses and families being driven out by gentrification—often Polish or Dominican immigrants without much social clout—she devotes little attention to them. Instead, she’s driven by antagonism, shouting at the construction workers outside her window as they tear down an old brick building, and aggressively asserting her right to film the rich people who have moved into a high-rise by the water. Rather than going to the root of the problem, Friedrich bats at its branches. The film marks time with periodic stop-motion shots of a map of Williamsburg, on which Friedrich colors in the lots where development has occurred since the rezoning, block by block; she catalogues every one. It’s simple and striking, one of the film’s stronger devices, and it makes clear what a shame it is that Friedrich, so impassioned by her subject matter, couldn’t get enough objectivity to make a film that’s more than just a complaint.


Gut Renovation
Directed by Su Friedrich
Outcast Films
Opens March 6, Film Forum

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I haven't seen the film yet although I plan on so my comment is based on an assumption. It looks to me like the film is leaning more towards the poor baby artists instead of towards the actual residents of Williamsburg. I grew up there and actually moved away the year the filmmaker moved in, 1989. I recently returned as I inherited my family's house and I can truly say I DESPISE what has happened. What was once a neighborhood is now an area. I can proudly say I think I live on the only street in the area where not a single new, UGLY atrocity has been built. The horror stories are endless though. Threats of violence to sell. Threats of eminent domain. Harassment by city inspectors etc etc. All in the name of money. I can't tell you how many times I've been approached by mostly Hasidic real estate developers. Instead of focusing on artists who were doing nothing but looking for a cheap place to live I feel the focus should be on the people who are being forced from the homes they have lived in all their lives in favor of some rich hipsters who couldn't care less about the history and traditions of Williamsburg.


To Diana: I have no interest in changing your opinion, but I do feel compelled to correct a gross error, which is when you say that I yell at the construction workers (implying that I am speaking in a hostile way to them). That is not true. I called out the window to ask when they would finishing their work. Yelled so as to be heard across the street over the noise of construction. Yelled by saying "Sir!". You are free to detest the film, but you cannot say that I was hostile to construction workers. I never would be, I respect the work that they do.

To Bruno: You presume to know my income. I wonder why you do. I am not affluent.


The funniest part is where affluent white people rail at rich white people for gentrifying the neighborhood without any thought given to the notion that they were the original gentrifiers. Wburg may have been a dump before Friedrich and her ilk moved in, but it was a neighborhood that provided affordable housing to its low income residents. now that the tables are turned, watch the whining commence!


"Rather than going to the root of the problem, Friedrich bats at its branches," says yet another branch or aspiring branch. Friedrich's film may have tone problems, but the mistakes do not lie in her pestering rich people who have become accustomed to taking advantage of an increasingly corrupt system without being taken to task for it.


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