Umbrella House reveals the stories of the squatter community – most of them immigrants – that took over abandoned buildings in the Lower East Side of Manhattan reconstructed them and made them into homes. The director introduces her film:
I decided to make Umbrella House after my friend Ricardo Peña died in 2011. I met Ricardo in 1997, two years after I came to New York and I went to visit him. He lived in a building in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, called Umbrella House. It was a building abandoned by the city and some people full of dreams took it over, reconstructed and made it their home.
The back of Ricardo’s apartment was under construction, he had no bathroom and no heat, but there were always people sharing their friendship and creating. That was the time when I did the first shots in 16mm in Ricardo’s apartment and in the building.
Getting to know the building “Umbrella House”, the people who took it over and were now living there, was a new experience; somehow it gave me a new vision of society, and made me feel that we could live in a free and more fantastic world. But the city changed and the Lower East Side gentrified. It was a utopia.
When Ricardo died, many years later his world was already falling apart, as so happens when life follows its inevitable course and social changes occur. Umbrella House turned legal but life inside the building would never be the same. The nostalgia of utopia lingers.