Bed-Stuy resident and filmmaker Su Friedrich moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 1989, because she fell in love with the neighborhood’s raw, untethered quality.
Williamsburg was a working-class, multicultural mix of immigrants from all over—Russia, Poland, Ecuador, Jamaica, California, Illinois...
It was a quiet area of Brooklyn where anyone could carve out a space and call it home. Friedrich and her partner gut-renovated a loft space and turned it into their private sanctuary.
Then, around the mid-2000s, the rezoning of her area was announced. And the developers started coming.
“The jackhammers started; plywood went up around empty lots. After the rezoning was announced, it really started coming fast and furious,” said Friedrich. “So I decided to start documenting.
“At first it was just an idea, and the scale of it wasn’t clear yet. But after having lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, I thought it would be really good to make a record of the changes.”
So Friedrich, an artist who had been making films since 1978, began recording the changes. The completed film, “Gut Renovation,” co-written by Cathy Quinlan, will debut at the Film Forum on Wednesday, March 6.
Whether captured on film or fixed into her memory, Friedrich pays very close attention to what’s happening to the neighborhood around her, and she bears witness to it all— the outdoor track that for years remained run-down, miraculously repaired; the Caribbean grocery store ignored and replaced by Whole Foods shoppers; the neighborhood dogs suddenly grew smaller, and the buildings each month, much much taller…
Friedrich tried to push back in her own way, scribbling “Artists Used to Live Here” on the plywood covering the lots.
But that did nothing to stop anything. And the changes— some heartbreaking, some good — eventually meant skyrocketing rents and that Friedrich and her partner would have to move... to Bed-Stuy.
But wait: Would that then make Friedrich the new gentrifier? So then, where does the gentrification process really start and, more important, does it really end?
“That’s a hard question to answer,” said Friedrich. “In the case of Williamsburg, there are people that say ‘Well, it was the artists that started it.’ But I think in some cases there can be a neighborhood, which has had financial difficulties and people move in with a little more money, and the neighborhood stabilizes a bit.
“You have this really serious problem of incredible income disparity: You have many more people who are much richer and a lot of people who are a lot poorer,” said Friedrich. “So it makes it a lot easier to push one group out, and that is really frightening to me.
“I think this country is really on a bad course, and I don’t know how much is being done to correct that.”
Friedrich said she made “Gut Renovation” not to serve as an answer to the problem of gentrification. Nor is the film trying to galvanize people to action. She said she made the film to bear witness to what was happening and not allow the destruction to go unrecorded.
“By the time I began editing the film, you had Occupy Wall Street and an incredible amount of conversations. I just wanted to play a small part in showing how this rampant capitalism is making life miserable for a lot of people.
“I think it’s fantastic that there are so many films now about what’s going on in Brooklyn. Because people take information and inspiration from all kinds of things— music, books, articles…
“And if my film can give others extra energy, discussion and thought, great!”
“Gut Renovation” will run from Wednesday, March 6 - Tuesday, March 12, at the Film Forum, located at 209 West Houston Street (west of 6th Ave). For showtimes and to purchase tickets, go here.