Su Friedrich’s personal experience of Williamsburg’s gentrification premiered, appropriately enough, at last year’s Brooklyn Film Festival, where it shared an audience award. It also screened at last month’s Berlin International Film Festival.
Friedrich’s body of work has frequently turned to the personal and the political, and her latest is no different. A resident of Williamsburg since the late 1980s, occupying a large former factory space that’s technically zoned for commercial use but whose landlord has knowingly allowed modifications for residential habitation, Friedrich is thoroughly tied to her neighborhood. As a result of shady rezoning plans, the doors opened to rampant redevelopment in the mid 2000s, which threaten to force out Friedrich, her girlfriend, and the various artists in her building and the small but still vital businesses in the area. Facing an uncertain future, she can’t do much else but bear witness to the destruction taking place around her by picking up her camera. A recurring visual in the film is a map of the neighborhood that Friedrich fills in, as she provides an indignant but increasingly pessimistic count of all the new condos being built, replacing long-standing buildings. This mixture of anger and resignation plays out throughout the film, from guerrilla style recordings of ridiculously over the top condo open house parties and gentrifiers’ designer dogs to a particularly compelling episode involving a seemingly indestructible boulder that brings the destruction of an old-time garage to a standstill for a time. Though it’s never in doubt that gentrification will continue, there’s something affecting about Friedrich’s impassioned and at times wryly funny rage against it, resulting in a sort of elegy to her disappearing neighborhood that should resonate in Brooklyn and beyond.