Monster Island

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


Monster Island is a portrait of contemporary individuals in the arts displaced by gentrification.
Sample clip:


When the lease of “Monster Island “, a DIY art space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn expires, the occupants are forced to leave after years of making it their own.

What was once a forgotten, sleepy street has gradually become prime real estate. Slowly Monster Island started to look out of place - a shabby, colorfully painted building in amongst sparkling new high-rise condos.

And with the condos came a new breed of residents: young professionals with money, who were initially drawn to a neighborhood that had been transformed and nurtured by artists, but then seemed to find Monster Island to be a bit of an eyesore.

We spent the summer of 2011 interviewing all the varied artists who had studios in Monster Island. Eric, the founder, and his partner Rachel ran the space "Secret Project Robot" regularly hosting shows of underground artists, and Kayrock, who owns a successful screen printing business. Together they obtained a lease on a crumbling, decaying building on the waterfront in 2004. With very little money and the help of many friends, they transformed it into a thriving alternative art and music space for the community of Williamsburg for the next seven years.

We discovered that many of the people in this alternative space, had several roles that sustained this environment economically and artistically. For example Todd P. an ex wall street employee, who turned into one of the most well known music promoters in the independent music scene, runs rehearsal studios, while mentoring kids in an alternative “life schooling” approach.
On any given day you can visit Monster Island and people will be making, building or creating something, while coexisting and supporting each other.

Around this little island we encounter young homeless people that sleep on the bench outside, the elderly Latin ice man who has come to rely on the crowds that descend on the building. The tourists that walk by daily photographing this colorful building while just one block away we meet condo owners, sitting in bikinis with their luxury river view from sunny deck chairs, and the local fisherman who now have access to a brand new pier.

Many people considered Monster Island a home away from home, the kindergarten for grown ups. Williamsburg has been the home of many Jews, and Latinos who were born and raised here. What do they think of the changes in the neighborhood?

Six months later the demolition workers are tearing down the waterfront.
New York is a changing landscape and things need to change in cities to stay fresh and new. But it seems to be a worldwide pattern that many rundown poor neighborhoods that become gentrified get taken over by generic cheap architecture and greedy corporations with money. Using slogans and imagery of arts, youth culture to sell condos, meanwhile erasing the culture they are advertising. Is the replacement of community spaces less valuable than corporations making buildings to “inject” money into society? What is the value of art, music, and urbanism, in a fast changing city, or is this a fast, cheap and out of control business bulldozing over communities?


Having both lived in Williamsburg for 12 years we have seen the dramatic changes that have taken place to the landscape. When we heard Monster Island's lease was about to expire and they would be forced to close we decided to document their last few months.

Monster Island opened in 2004 in a desolate old industrial neighborhood; it was this deserted landscape that drew us and many others to live here. A no man's land ready to be colonized, attracting young people looking for space and cheaper rents which Manhattan no longer provided.

It was more important to have freedom and space, this environment enabled many people to flourish, for example small business owners who have invested in the neighborhood by opening new locations, or the musicians who are now famous worldwide, for example Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Sound-system, Animal Collective etc.

While we were filming we soon realized there were bigger issues around this island. We discovered that Con Edison were lobbying to change the law which would enable them to sell this now very valuable site, and build for profit. The land was believed to be contaminated; since oil tanks had sat there for decades it was forbidden to dig deep to avoid a natural disaster. When the rezoning of the waterfront took place, it outlined Monster Island and other Con Edison buildings on that block. We became fascinated by the events that started to unfold. Now we are wondering what will happen to the historical Domino's sugar factory. Will Donald Trump triumph and demolish the places that give Williamsburg it's distinctive appearance and atmosphere?

We plan to incorporate archival footage and photos of the waterfront. In addition there will be live footage and audio of the varied alternative music coming out of Monster Island, which will create an original dynamic soundtrack. We are also working with Kenny Curwood, a very talented experimental animator, to create unique hand painted clips on super 8 and 16mm, which will illustrate and enhance the story we aim to tell.

Our film will reveal the characters, chaos, music and creativity that has been generated in this unique building. We believe in 5 years or less there will be no record that such a place ever existed in this location, and this is why we feel it is imperative we make our film now. It's a document of a period that we experienced, and one we hope will inspire others.

We would like our documentary to show the beauty in derelict decay, without ignoring some of the positive changes such as the creation of public parks and improved personal safety.

We want to bring awareness to how artists create the groundwork for an appealing neighborhood, and as history can verify they inevitably get displaced.
There will always be people who search for an alternative, a place to create and to be able to live within their means. This culture cannot be destroyed and will always find a way, a place to be. The spirit of Monster Island will live on elsewhere. But imagine in ideal world if these artists were appreciated and allowed to stay in affordable housing and be part of the new landscape. Continuing their work in the culture that they started.


MAYA HARDINGE - Producer - Co director

Hardinge has worked on over 40 movies around the USA and abroad as a Make up artist. She also has a music project and has co- directed and produced 7 music videos. Raised in England, Hardinge has lived in Williamsburg Brooklyn since 1999.

MARGARITA JIMENO - Producer - Co director - DP

 In 2008 Margarita Jimeno debuted her feature music documentary film, Gogol Bordello Non-Stop, which was distributed in North America by Kino-Lorber International, and in Russia by Maywin Films. It premiered at Göteborg Film Festival and won several awards during its festival run, including Special Mention for Sound and Vision Award at CPH:DOX (Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival). Jimeno is an alumna of The School Of Visual Arts, Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School in Los Angeles, and the Berlinale Talent Campus.
Jimeno lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn since 1999, and has been documenting the neighborhood since 1998.


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