Until 2005, Williamsburg was a modest neighborhood in Brooklyn that was home to working- and middle-class Italians, Hispanics and Poles, to many small industries, and increasingly to artists who were fleeing Manhattan real estate prices. It was also my home; in 1989, we moved into and renovated an abandoned loft, which we rented and shared with a changing assortment of three roommates.
By the late ‘90s we noted the increasing changes—the sushi restaurants, the organic shops, the boutiques. Gentrification had taken hold, but it wasn’t until the City Council passed a rezoning ordinance in May 2005 that all hell broke loose.
Developers were given twenty and even twenty-five year tax abatements for building; everything that was available was purchased, and almost everything that wasn’t yet available was gradually made so through evictions or skyrocketing rents.
In late 2005, I began to systematically record all the demolitions and constructions. Over the next three years, in an area bounded by the East River and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway—an area 6 blocks wide by 17 blocks long—I recorded 173 sites. And in late 2008, I also began to record what was happening in our own home, since it was becoming clear that we would also have to leave, as had so many other artists already.
In making Gut Renovation I was primarily concerned with documenting the two central aspects of my experience as the neighborhood collapsed around me. These were the physical changes—the heart-rending loss of so many beautiful old industrial buildings, as well as the men and women who worked in them—and the change in our lives—the equally painful loss of our living and working space and the friendships we forged with our roommates and neighbors.
This excerpt, “Auf Wiedersehen,” focuses on the industrial spaces, while later parts of the film focus more on the residential buildings and our loft.
Expected completion: early spring 2012
Expected length: 90 minutes
Directed, shot, edited and sound edited by Su Friedrich