Hot Docs 2023: Qs à la mode with… Katja Esson (Razing Liberty Square)

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Director Katja Esson trains her lens on the residents of one of America’s oldest housing projects, who find themselves in the middle of a gentrification battle, in Razing Liberty Square. We posed our Qs à la mode to Katja, and here’s what she shared!

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Heartbreaking, courageous, canary-in-the-coal-mine.

I decided to make this film because: During our five years of filming together, the protagonists’ growing trust and collaboration was fiercely pushing me to make this documentary. As they shared their stories, an intimate portrait of a community that is fighting for their neighborhood was emerging. The question of where and how we live — who must stay or go, and how climate change exacerbates the existing inequity in our nation’s cities — has never been more relevant.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: To discover a new form of racial injustice: climate gentrification.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: A Liberty Square resident is moved from her old home into the brand-new apartment. The management is showing her the new washer and dryer, but she is holding on to a single wooden clothespin, clinging to her pervious way of life.

The most challenging part of making my film was: Although Miami has a bustling commercial-media culture, it seems to mostly pay attention to projects that are quickly made, glitzy and celebrity-driven. The work of long-form documentarians — especially those who work on social issue projects — is often undervalued. The developer in our story is so powerful in Miami that it was/is very difficult to even get any press coverage out about the real conditions of the new Liberty Square apartment complex. Many serious journalists have left or avoid working in Miami because most local news outlets won’t publish articles that question the status quo. In that way, it is extremely difficult to hold anyone accountable.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: My Chapstick — my lips get super dry in times of stress!

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: Be truly curious and really really listen.

Want to check out Katja’s film, or just learn more about it?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!


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