“No Free Walls” is a short documentary directed by Rafael Moses for Complex. It highlights the accomplishments of Joe Ficalora, founder of The Bushwick Collective, and his ongoing struggle as both a Bushwick native and someone people see as a harbinger of gentrification.
In its 30 minutes, the doc deals with Ficalora’s personal history while also asking the question: Who owns Bushwick’s walls?
The documentary works hard to create an optimistic portrait of gentrification, meaning that most people (including Ficalora and other longtime residents of Bushwick) might be able to see how increased interest in this community has both made it pretty, and pretty safe. Furthermore, Councilmember Antonio Reynoso suggests an increased presence of residents with money might bring better services (like schools) to those who are able to stick around.
What complicates Ficalora’s task as art curator bringing international street art talent to Bushwick is the influx of money, which also brings an influx of advertising, anxious to get its hands on the cash of some of these new residents.
The most poignant moments come when Ficalora shows the filmmakers art walls covered up by advertising or sold to advertisers paying huge sums of money to local business owners. One of those advertisers, though, helped with the operational costs of The Bushwick Collective’s block party this year, an annual event which draws thousands of visitors to these colorful streets.
Ultimately, there are no easy answers. Some companies are good; other companies are bad. For some, the mere presence of street art is antithetical to the notion of what this neighborhood was. For others, it’s a way to show the world Bushwick’s resilience.
It is worth a watch, especially if you’re a new transplant wondering how the neighborhood got so colorful and where that huge McDonald’s ad on Knickerbocker and Thames came from.