Architecture on Film: Theory of Achievement + Gut Renovation + Q&A

There goes the neighborhood: the before and after of 'creative regeneration'. Hal Hartley’s hilarious satirical melodrama meets Su Friedrich’s devastating diary of development and despair, to chart a changing Williamsburg over 30 years. Followed by a Skype Q&A with Friedrich and Tom Wilkinson.


06:30pm, Tuesday, 15 September 2015


08:45pm, Tuesday, 15 September 2015


Cinema 1, Barbican, Beech Street, London EC2Y 8AE



AF Members:
£7.50 (Please contact AF for promotional discount code)


Young Barbican:


Tel (9am-8pm):
+44 (0)20 7638 8891

This is a past event


There goes the neighborhood: the before and after of 'creative regeneration'. Hartley’s hilarious satirical melodrama meets Friedrich’s devastating diary of development and despair, to chart a changing Williamsburg over 30 years. Screening presented in response to the Barbican film season, The Colour of Money (10-20 September 2015).

We are delighted that Gut Rennovation director Su Friedrich will be be joining us for a Skype Q&A following the screening, in conversation with Tom Wilkinson (History Editor, The Architectural Review, Author, Bricks and Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made).

Theory of Achievement

Look, I know the neighborhood doesn’t look like much, but plenty of people are moving out of here to Brooklyn. Writers, painters, filmmakers, rock and roll musicians. I mean it’s just a matter of time before this neighborhood becomes the art capital of the world. New York, SoHo, that’s all in the past. A new art capital needs to be a place where people can afford to live – who can afford to live in New York City?

So opens, with prescient verve, indie-darling Hal Hartley’s fictional satire of the real estate woes of a group of “young, middle class, white, college educated, unskilled, broke, drunk” dreamers, and their search for a place to afford to call home. A hilarious melodrama of existential despair, through his trademark wit and flair-filled dialogue Hartley offers an ode and document of a changing NYC, and the eternal conflict of living, labour and dreams.

USA, 1991, Hal Hartley, 18 mins

Gut Renovation

Friedrich’s epic ‘cri de coeur’ passionately charts the devastating impacts of re-zoning and development on the Williamsburg she has called home since the late 1980s. Through a highly personal diary she maps the transformation of the neighborhood from a mixture of light industry and creative sanctuary to ‘Condoburg’ - a goldmine of financial speculation erasing the urban landscape block-by-block, eventually leading to her own displacement.

“What took 25 years in Soho took Williamsburg 5 years.”
- Su Friedrich

An artist-filmmaker who has been honored with retrospectives at the BFI, MoMA, Whitney Museum and the Rotterdam Film Festival, with Gut Renovation Friedrich focuses upon a section of the city six blocks wide by 15 blocks long, and documents five turbulent years that changed the neighborhood at astonishing speed. A reality drama of real estate, the film proffers a cautionary tale, both personal and political, of a city for sale and the ‘loft-living’ creative community that accidentally may have laid the roads for other’s riches.

A record and requiem for a slice of New York, and a case study of gentrification.

Winner of the Audience Award at the 2012 Brooklyn Film Festival.

USA, 2012, Su Friedrich, 81 mins


Programme notes by Tom Wilkinson

Islington, SoHo, Boston’s South End, the Marais, Clerkenwell, Mitte, the Meatpacking District, Prenzlauer Berg, Shoreditch, TriBeCa, Peckham: the list of inner-city areas that have succumbed to gentrification since Ruth Glass coined the term in 1964 is a long and growing one. The process is familiar: first artists occupy spaces in rundown districts that have been abandoned by industry and metropolitan administrations, then come the galleries, bars and cafés, then the scenesters, hipsters, yuppies, or what have you, then real-estate agents and developers (often encouraged by government incentives), and ultimately the very rich crush all the life left in the place with a wave of ‘super-gentrification’. The original occupants – the urban poor, first or second generation immigrants, small businesses, and the artists too – are long-gone by this point, and what’s left is once more an eerily abandoned zone, albeit one now filled with ‘luxury’ apartments, the empty investment silos of global capital.

The role that artists play in this process is apparently crucial, but their culpability is a vexed topic. Some would argue that they are the victims, others, the avant garde of financialisation. The latter argument was put forward by Feargus O’Sullivan last year in a controversial article on the use of artists to force social tenants from Balfron Tower, a tactic he termed ‘artwashing’. Martha Rosler (who has been working on this problem since her 1989 project on the gentrification of SoHo titled If You Lived Here…) takes a more nuanced view. In her book Culture Class, Rosler argues that although the creative mode of production has been co-opted by post-Fordist capitalism, there is still room for criticality in artistic practice, however corrupt and corrupting it generally is. And indeed, while the power of artists to prevent the gentrification that follows them seems limited, they can influence the form that process takes: for instance, London-based filmmaker Andrea Luka Zimmerman participated in a legal battle to re-house her neighbours in the new apartments that replaced their social housing, a story recorded in her 2015 film Estate: A Reverie.  

The two films on tonight’s programme concern one of the more recent entries in the gazetteer of social cleansing: Brooklyn. Just over the river from Manhattan, it seemed inevitable that the western regions of the borough – peppered as they are with lofts and empty lots – would attract the artists pushed out by the gentrification of Downtown. And so they came, but the speed with which they were followed by developers was shockingly novel.

Hal Hartley’s (b. 1959) short film Theory of Achievement serves up an amusing and eerily prescient sliver of the BoBo dream. Made in 1991, it portrays the first wave of economic migrants to Brooklyn: the desperate, the drunk, the déclassé (or just rich slummers), all of them looking for somewhere cheaper than Manhattan, and the landlords looking to make a quick buck off their backs. As with his features The Unbelievable Truth (1989) and Henry Fool (1997), Hartley populates his film with garrulous fantasists, skewering the maundering philosophising of the creative precariat (as we would now call them) with the ear of a familiar auditor. But the dream they are dreaming – insubstantial as it seems, and formulated in the claustrophobic setting of a tiny apartment – will have cataclysmic effects on the city outside.

These effects are detailed in Su Friedrich’s 2012 film Gut Renovation. Friedrich (b. 1954) is a professor at Princeton and a pioneering figure in Queer Cinema whose films concern the intersection of personal and social history. Gut Renovation is at first sight an unusual entry in her oeuvre, a portrait not of a person but of a place: Williamsburg, where Friedrich had occupied a loft since the late 1980s, and from which she was being evicted as the film was made. By turns angry, wistful and comic, the film documents the demolition of the old industrial buildings surrounding Friedrich’s home and the hideous new apartments that spring up in their wake, spurring her to rename the area ‘Condoburg’. Far from being a polemical monologue, however, Friedrich’s conversations with butchers, builders, and estate agents flesh-out the full range of actors in the process, aside from the money-men behind it. In one sequence Friedrich harangues some men in suits, who may or may not represent the bankers who brought construction to a halt with their crash of 2008. But as we know from events on our own doorstep, this was only a temporary respite, and the process continues with no end in sight: Greenpoint, Bed-Stuy, Dalston, Peckham, Walthamstow…