Directed by Su Friedrich.Screens Oct. 9 at the Royal.
Su Friedrich is a legitimate titan of contemporary avant-garde cinema, but Gut Renovation is hardly a high point in that genre. Filmed over a period of several years in the late 2000s in Williamsburg (the director’s stomping grounds), it’s an essay film that doesn’t put across a thesis so much as a series of gripes that conflate personal indignation with political agitation—and which never goes very deep into the issues it means to investigate.
Friedrich’s first-person account of helping to reshape the empty, dilapidated industrial spaces of her Brooklyn neighbourhood is interesting enough: It’s a snapshot of a time before gentrification, filled with literal snapshots of the director and her friends attesting to the existence of a vibrant artistic community. It’s understandable that Friedrich is frustrated by the way that developers seized upon Williamsburg as a sort of ground zero for luxury condominiums, but a truly provocative film would have drawn a link between the bohemian appeal generated by the presence of so many artists and the impetus for gentrification.
Instead, we get pointedly edited montages of local businesses edged out (fair enough) and truly wretched interludes where Friedrich berates strangers for being “the people who are ruining the neighbourhood”—she recognizes them because of their little dogs and designer shopping bags. This isn’t sociology: It’s cheap-shotting that yields no real insight into the shifting economic and physical topography of the area. As its title suggests, Gut Renovation comes across like spleen venting: Friedrich feels better, surely, but it’s unclear what we’re supposed to get out of it.