One of the official selections at the upcoming Lower East Side Film Festival is the documentary, “There Goes The Neighborhood,” a film that spotlights activists in NYC’s local communities (including the LES) who are fighting back against gentrification and the larger developments that have been proposed in various neighborhoods over the last few years.
We spoke with filmmaker and NYC native, Ian Phillips, about his motivation for making the film and what some of his biggest takeaways were after the project was completed. Some excerpts, along with the full audio interview are below:
TLD: Can you tell our readers what the film is about?
Phillips: The film is about New York, really, and the current state of New York, and how the city has transformed into a very different place than I knew growing up. I grew up in Manhattan. I was born in Stuyvesant Town and raised on the Upper West Side, and the feeling that I had growing up in New York is gone. That’s what I wanted to make a film about but when I started making the film, that was a very abstract idea. I was inspired by the construction of Hudson Yards, a huge project by Penn Station that was erected in 2018 over train tracks…I was working in the neighborhood and I saw these huge glass towers go up and I thought, “this is just obscene.” New Yorkers have been talking about gentrification for decades but this is a different level. This is transforming the way the city looks, the way it feels, I mean for the city to be building like this is really egregious… and then when I heard about Amazon on the heels of that — they announced they’d be moving to a working class neighborhood in Queens, and, in turn, threatening to displace a lot of working class people, I thought okay, now I have story here. That was the jumping off point and for [almost] 4 years I documented this change and the Amazon fight and the erection of these towers that are going up in the Lower East Side [including One Manhattan Square in the Two Bridges neighborhood].
TLD: We’ve been covering the Two Bridges development battle for a long time — boy does that building make a statement.
Phillips: One Manhattan Square is especially egregious, in my opinion, but I don’t think it’s about just one building or another building… if you walk down any street in Manhattan or in New York [City], any neighborhood has buildings like this, where they just cause a lot of disruption and why is this happening right now? Why has this been such a problem in the last five to ten years? In my neighborhood in the Upper West Side you see a lot of these big buildings, that are vacant, that just don’t belong in a community that is supposed to feel “bohemian,” is supposed to feel people-centric, right? And it seems like the aesthetic of NYC is changing, along with the feeling and the affordability. And I don’t think a lot of people question what these buildings are doing to the destruction of community.
TLD: What were some of your takeaways after documenting so much of the process and really questioning how it was affecting the communities?
Phillips: My takeaway is that people have a lot more power than they think they do. Watching the two main characters in the film, Dannelly Rodriquez, who is now a lawyer, in Queens, who has spent his adult life fighting against gentrification in his neighborhood in Astoria, and watching Arnette Scott, who is a Lower East Side Activist – watching those two have their respective victories, so to speak, in the neighborhoods that they grew up in and that their families grew up in, made me realize that this is not an insolvable problem. I think before making the film I felt like, gentrification is just something that happens and money wins over people and corporations win over people, [but] that’s just not the case. The Amazon victory was monumental because it wasn’t politicians that kept Amazon out of New York, it was the sheer amount of people that organized and said “we don’t want this in our back yard.” And Amazon said, “it’s not worth the headache, we can go somewhere else where they’re not going to be as united.”…New Yorkers are not gonna just lay down and let anything happen in their back yard. You know, we really value community here and that was very inspiring for me to see, before that I never had that optimistic vision – that people can win these battles, but now I do.
“There Goes the Neighborhood” is screening as an official selection at the Lower East Side Film Festival on Saturday, May 6 at DCTV at the Firehouse Cinema at 4:30pm.
You can listen to our full interview here: