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Gut Renovation


Cinematography and editing by Su Friedrich

Produced in part by a grant from the Council on Research in the Humanities, Princeton University

video, color
81 minutes

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A documentary of small changes evolves into an historical record of New York. The resulting film is an essayistic requiem for a neighborhood and an entire way of life; it also provides a case study of the rapid gentrification of our cities.

In 1989, together with a group of female friends, Su Friedrich rented and renovated an old loft in Williamsburg, an unassuming working-class district of Brooklyn. In 2005 this former industrial zone was designated a residential area and the factories, manufacturers and artists' lofts were priced out by property speculators lured by tax breaks. Friedrich spent five years documenting the changes in the area between East River and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. She shows the demolition of industrial buildings and the construction of trendy new apartments for wealthy clients, watching old tenants leave and new inhabitants arrive. As she keeps meticulous record of developments, the extent and speed of the upheaval becomes clear. When her lease isn't renewed, her documentary images and trenchant commentary become the tools of her growing anger.

“...the most salient and personal film about Brooklyn's ever-changing face since Hal Ashby's The Landlord appeared in theaters some 43 years ago. Her Gut Renovation is bound to polarize audiences. It's a polemical howl in the night, a desperately angry and sidesplittingly funny look at one oh-so-mythologized neighborhood's transformation...[It's] a film essay that is of a piece with the work of heady French names like Godard and Varda.”

“Friedrich uses all manner of wry digs and ironic whimsy to make her point...the “damn-the-torpedoes” directness of her spoken and superimposed commentary gives the film its unique bite and personality.”
—Ronnie Scheib, VARIETY

“...Ms. Friedrich is fighting mad. She is a provocateur.”
—Stephen Holden, THE NEW YORK TIMES

“Su Friedrich's sardonic, scathing portrait reveals a thriving enclave of industry and artists, overrun by 173 (and counting) new constructions and conversions....the magnitude and insensitivity of the transformation are stunning. Highlight: a six-minute tour de force (scored to Vivaldi) in which construction workers attempt—over weeks—to move a boulder that heroically resists displacement.” —David Edelstein, NY MAGAZINE

“Gut Renovation displays genuine New York temper.... Friedrich's self-deprecating pique, familiar from her previous personal documentaries, makes this a rare depiction of privileged-yet-aggrieved urban lifestyles; one of the most honest New York stories ever put on the screen. It reproves the lies and self-deceptions of Woody Allen's movies....” —Armond White, CITY ARTS

“Friedrich may be filled with righteous anger and deep sorrow, but she never loses her sense of humor. Particularly amusing are her tours of various open houses for cramped, cookie-cutter apartments selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. She...invariably ruffles the people showing her around. You can see the alarm in their eyes: just who is this woman, anyway? She seems like she might be dangerous. Maybe she is. Artists are supposed to be that way, after all.” —Sarah Goodyear, THE ATLANTIC

Selected Film Festival Screenings and Awards:
AUDIENCE AWARD, Brooklyn Film Festival; Berlin International Film Festival; Viennale Film Festival, Austria; Athens Film Festival, Ohio; Dortmund/Cologne International Women's Film Festival; Nuremberg International Human Rights Film Festival; San Francisco DocFest; Queer Lisboa Film Festival; International Women's Film Festival in Seoul; Robert Flaherty Film Seminar; 4th American Film Festival, Wroclaw, Poland


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