Wynwood is constantly teeming with photo shoots and roving videographers setting their works in the color-drenched backdrop of once-bedraggled warehouses turned blossoming outdoor art museum. People make music videos, build modeling portfolios, and create surreal melodramas there. And some have taken to making documentaries about this burgeoning nerve center of creativity -- what Wynwood means, what the people there stand for, how it is the paint-soaked ideal of Miami's cultural future, and so on.
Most of these films have been rubbish. But a new short film about Wynwood by Camila Álvarez and Natalie Edgar debuts today, and it is an exception among the wide array of trite tinsel hanging from the hippest section of the Magic City. It is honest, smart, substantial, and utterly worth seeing.
The documentary, Right to Wynwood, was intended as a final project for an honors research course at FIU. Over the course of the past few years, it has grown into something far more relevant, partly because of the high quality of the film itself and partly because of the increasing significance of Wynwood as a community to this city.
As Wynwood has become more of a hotbed of activity, as it's changed from a place to live to a place to paint to a place to party to a place to be seen, the questions asked by Right to Wynwood have become increasingly powerful and the problematic truths it presents have become more important for us to recognize. Today, the movie makes its online premiere here on New Times' website, and the best thing you can do with the next 21 minutes of your time is watch it.
One of the most engaging things about Right to Wynwood is that it says a great deal of what's been on the tip of your tongue if you've been paying attention to Wynwood and then it fleshes those ideas out in an intelligent, concise, and effective way. We all know that Wynwood has changed in the past few years and that not all of those changes have been for the better.
You can feel it's become more commercially driven and less artistically driven when you walk around on any given day and you can't help but feel a little odd about that scrap of land that's been razed to make way for a new apartment building on NW Second Ave. This film explores that shift by examining the process by which Wynwood was bought and gentrified posthaste once its potential profitability was exposed.
"I always wanted to do some research and find out what was happening there. I saw a lot of artists painting and a lot of movement, and I knew that before it was kind of dead, so I wanted to find out why all of this was happening," Álvarez explains. "I love it, but I wanted to know why. What's the catalyst for all that?"
And while the words "gentrification" and "mainstream" have been spoken more frequently in regard to Wynwood, this documentary was conceived four years ago, before Wynwood had even a fraction of the popularity it has today. That's one of the most fascinating things about this film when you contextualize it -- how ahead of its time it is in relation to its subject matter and how much more poignant it has become as the issues it raises have grown more exaggerated.
Right to Wynwood doesn't just check off all the requisite boxes for a film about Wynwood through cursory interviews with graffiti artists, gallerists, developers, and hipsters. It investigates and it explains and it exposes how entrepreneurs such as Tony Goldman and David Lombardi exploited a low-rent neighborhood and built it into one of the most successful examples of gentrification this city has seen in a long, long time. Lombardi himself goes so far as to gloat on camera about evicting a building full of people and demolishing their home in front of them, a section of the film that is simply baffling in its very existence considering how damningly unflattering Lombardi appears. (Lombardi, it should be noted, did not respond for comment.)
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Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the documentary is how it talks about gentrification in a way that sounds like more than a highfalutin word thrown around by snobs in cutoffs and corduroys -- it makes gentrification real for you. Hearing from residents who were forced out of the neighborhood to make way for the future developers is heart-rending, and Marcus, the sociologist who discusses gentrification and developer-versus-artist-led change, is erudite and interesting to listen to without once sounding like an out-of-touch scholar with a stick up his ass.
This movie does what a great documentary should do best -- it allows the issues and the people who can express them most honestly to speak for themselves, rather than jamming the filmmakers' point of view down your throat with florid, self-indulgent narration. At no point does Right to Wynwood feel full of itself or especially self-righteous. From start to finish, Álvarez and Edgar look at Wynwood through a lens of carefully honed inquisition, and what that lens captures is glaringly unsettling.
What has happened in that stretch of city between 29th and 21st streets will continue to happen in this city, from Little Havana to Little Haiti, and understanding that transformation is arguably the most essential ingredient to keeping Miami's personality intact and letting it grow into something authentic rather than something depressingly plastic. And it's films like this one -- as well as other powerful expressions of truths across different mediums -- that will help us foster that understanding.