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Documentary 'Gut Renovation' Eyes Williamsburg's Real Estate Transformation

WILLIAMSBURG — Su Friedrich feels like she lived through Williamsburg's "destruction" — and now she's sharing her ruthless portrait of the area's rapid gentrification, smack in the middle of the neighborhood where she filmed.

"This is the world premiere," she said of her feature-length documentary "Gut Renovation," which will debut at Indie Screen on Kent Avenue this weekend as part of the Brooklyn Film Festival. "And I have to say, it's pretty astonishing it's in Williamsburg."

Friedrich, an accomplished filmmaker and a Princeton University film professor who lived on North 11th Street for 20 years, shot her film from 2005 through 2007 after the city rezoned much of Williamsburg for residential use.

The change allowed developers to build high-rise apartments and condos on the waterfront — while forcing out most industrial businesses and tenants at the time, Friedrich said.


"Williamsburg was filled with people who worked hard and made useful things," a caption in the film reads. "Now it's filled with designer dogs."


Friedrich flashes images of upper-class puppies strolling down Bedford Avenue, the shop New York Muffins on the corner of North Sixth Street, and freshly hung dresses in a boutique window that's she said is included in a commercial for a new condo.

The scenes represent today's version of the neighborhood — a dramatic change from when she lived there just a few years ago, she explained.

"Other people look at it and think it's been improved," she said of Williamsburg. "But there's a larger question of whats happening to New York culturally and physically...it can start to look anonymous and monolithic."

Friedrich took footage of the dozens of industrial businesses in the neighborhood — from her neighboring forklift factory to the Domino sugar plant — and of condos being erected, as well as shots of her friends leaving. She then documented 173 sites facing structural changes between the East River and the BQE, from McCarren Park to South Fifth Street, she said.

"I spent months riding around on my bike charting every place that was either a tear-down, gut renovated — apartments where people had been moved out …any place that was being touched by the rezoning," she said. "You have a sense of this incredible thing that’s swept through the neighborhood."

Friedrich, who now lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant after she claimed her rent skyrocketed as part of the rezoning, featured the old-versus-new juxtaposition by filming the neighborhood's new condo-selling parties and her artist friend's farewell shindig after living in Williamsburg for 25 years.

"There started to be lot of media in the late '90s about how Williamsburg was the trendiest place in the planet and those of us who moved there started to get a little nervous," she recalled. "I absolutely loved Williamsburg and I'm heartbroken about what happened to it."

"Gut Renovation" will show at 8 p.m. Friday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Indie Screen. Tickets can be purchased online for $12.