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.
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