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Gut Renovation: Film Review

Gut Renovation Still - H 2013
Outcast Films

The Bottom Line

Homemade doc about a dead Bohemia reeks of futile rage.

Venue

Berlinale (Outcast Films)

Director

Su Friedrich

Su Friedrich spends five years documenting the death of low-rent Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

NEW YORK — In 1991's Theory of Achievement, Hal Hartley had some fun with a would-be real estate mogul touting Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as a new Bohemia. That fictional hustler could have made a fortune in 2005, when a city governed by a billionaire rezoned the neighborhood in a way that favored top-dollar condos over longtime artist residents. That's the scene Su Friedrich (already an established Williamsburger in '91) documents in Gut Renovation, the kind of obsessive project that can only come from true indignation. Locals will echo her lament, but the home-movie-like film is no more commercially viable than Friedrich's hope to keep renting an old iron works with great bones in NYC's new playground for the young and rich.

Having lived in an abandoned factory since 1989, renovating it into a semi-legal residence with her girlfriend and sharing it with dozens of roommates over the years, Friedrich got the boot in 2010. Judging from this film, she spent her last half-decade in this enviable set-up at a perpetual boil: From 2005 to 2010 she stalks her six-by-fifteen block neighborhood with a camcorder, watching as old dwellings are knocked down and tacky condos -- each with a faux-sophisticated name and a marketing slogan like "Hardcore Luxury" -- are erected. She talks to the old kielbasa-maker, shutting the doors of a business founded in 1969; she worries what she'll do when her mechanic, in one location for 26 years, has to leave.

Friedrich films new residents and the vulture-like developers who eye old properties, and in her few moments of objectivity admits she's making a fool of herself in confrontations with them. But she can't help trying to make them uncomfortable, any more than she can avoid the sarcastic, futile tone with which she summarizes each outrage. Even a viewer who's firmly in her eat-the-rich camp can't help but be wearied by this elegy for a 'burg that, even before the bulldozers moved in, had already become home to more well-to-do kids seeking an "artistic lifestyle" than actual artists.

Director-producer-director of photography-editor: Su Friedrich
Screenwriters: Su Friedrich, Cathy Quinlan
No rating, 81 minutes