Early in This is an Address, the influential trans activist Sylvia Rivera shares a few important lessons: Fight for something, and perhaps even more crucially, “stop being comfortable.” These are words to live by, but in the context of the late 1990s in New York City, Rivera’s points stemmed from a specific sense of urgency. Facing eviction from their encampment along the piers — a longtime haven for many queer and trans folks — she and several other houseless friends were grappling with the looming threat of once again being displaced for the sake of gentrification.
For director Sasha Wortzel, this landscape along the Hudson River is “one particular site that can tell a much larger story about queer history in New York, but also about […] ideas around ‘urban renewal’ and policing and surveillance.” She began conceiving this film while going through archival material for Happy Birthday Marsha!, a poetic tribute to Rivera’s close friend and fellow Stonewall veteran Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson, which she co-directed with the artist Tourmaline.
In This is an Address, Wortzel layers footage from Randy Wicker’s 1995 interview with Rivera over her own spectral documentation of the dismantling of the Gansevoort Destructor Plant, a former garbage incinerator and one of the last vestiges of the old Meatpacking District — pre-new Whitney and outposts of high-end designers like Marni. Wortzel, a former education staffer at the Whitney, remembers observing the plant’s destruction from the museum’s offices and feeling the uncanny echoes of centuries of communities forcibly displaced, beginning with the Lenape people.
This is an Address affirms the artist-filmmaker’s interest in illuminating the ways that “the past haunts our contemporary landscape,” as she explains. The double entendre of the title likewise makes plain Wortzel’s tributary aims; it’s not just an affirmation of the piers as a community where Rivera and her peers practiced collective care in the face of discrimination, but also a loving dedication. “First and foremost, this film is for Sylvia, and the other people who lived and have lived along the piers […] who found something there.”
Enjoy exclusive access to the film below, ahead of its debut on Field of Vision. You can also find a version with audio descriptions here, narrated by Happy Birthday Marsha! co-director Tourmaline.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.