About the Film

Gowanus Current is a hybrid observational documentary and tone poem chronicling rapid changes to a notoriously polluted neighborhood in Brooklyn. It explores the struggles of its stakeholders and the textures of a transforming landscape, asking what is truly valuable in a community.

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Decades of industrial waste and raw sewage have turned Brooklyn’s Gowanus canal into one of the nation’s most toxic bodies of water. Currently on the brink of a long-awaited EPA Superfund cleanup, the 1.8 mile waterway is dangerously contaminated with industrial waste and raw sewage. Squeezed between some of the borough’s most expensive brownstone communities, the neighborhood along its banks was for over a century home to smokestacks and grit. Now hotels, nightlife spots and luxury housing are popping up on its sludgy shores. However the real changes, hinted at in a recently proposed rezoning by the Department of City Planning, are just beginning.

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Gowanus Current tells the story of an industrial neighborhood shedding its working class past and the struggle over what will replace it. The film examines ways that value is determined in a community, and how this value is negotiated among stakeholders, city government, and real estate capital. As events move forward, we see who the winners and losers are in this process.

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Gowanus Current employs a dual observational documentary/tone poem approach to paint an immersive portrait of a neighborhood, layering passages of sensory details with verité scenes featuring the people of Gowanus and their struggles. We want the audience to feel like they are there and to imagine what these changes to the neighborhood may bring.

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Gowanus Current began over six years ago, soon after the canal’s Superfund designation and just before the opening of a Whole Foods Market on its banks. The film shows the neighborhood becoming an entertainment destination, losing artists and small manufacturers, and entering an era of increasing community awareness. Neighborhood icons like the beloved Kentile sign are dismantled, while new landmarks like the 700-unit 365 Bond apartments gradually rise up. In the wake of the transformative rezoning plan, local groups struggle to have their needs addressed. This film will continue to explore the changes to the community as these mounting conflicts finally reach their resolution with the city’s decision on rezoning in the coming months.