The film explores stereotypes and humanizes the experiences of people caught in the crossfire of the growing housing divide. COURTESY PHOTO

New documentary ‘Unzipped’ puts spotlight on affordable housing crisis

By Michele Robinson

“Unzipped: An Autopsy of American Inequality,” a new documentary film by Grainey Pictures, is both timely and relevant to today’s societal issues. Using Venice as the backdrop, “Unzipped” brings heart to a very divisive topic: the unhoused and America’s growing affordable housing crisis.

The film is a call to action on how our society takes care of the most vulnerable. Writer and director Colin K. Gray offers a well-balanced and objective look at both sides of the struggle.
“The goal is to humanize the lived experience of people struggling to survive in one of the most income divided zip codes in America,” Gray said.

Grainey Pictures is an award-winning Venice-based production company co-founded by brother and sister team, Colin K. Gray and Megan Raney Aarons (known as “The Sibs”). Grainey Pictures has been making poignant documentaries since 2003. Its goal is to create powerful programming, inspire advocacy and make an impact on human conditions.

“Unzipped” is Grainey Pictures’ seventh documentary film. They have travelled the world to bring these stories to life, but this story was right in their own backyards.

“This is a love letter to Venice,” Gray said.

Gray and Aarons are both longtime Venice residents and they live six blocks from each other. Having lived in Venice for the past 20 years, Gray is very familiar with the community and what it has to offer. Using Venice as the focal point, he highlights the staggeringly complex challenges surrounding the affordable housing crisis locally and brings them onto a world stage.

“It is a window into my own backyard,” Gray said. “Venice is a progressive community, but this is such a polarizing issue. The film is a local lens on this urgent national and international issue.”

The film tries to tackle some of the most difficult and complex topics of our day: affordable housing, unhoused people and income inequality. Interviewing local residents, activists, experts and other community partners like St Joseph Center, Venice Family Clinic, Venice Community Housing and Safe Place For Youth, the film brings home the message that housing is a human right.

“Our hope is that the film will help catalyze further debate, awareness and action around this urgent issue,” Gray said.

Filmed over two years from 2018 to 2020, the documentary follows two artists and their families, along with others who are struggling to maintain their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. De Shawn and Nikol are both artists who have two young children under the age of three. They are unable to provide shelter for their family so they are living in a tent when the movie begins.

The film also follows artist William Attaway and his partner Rayanne, who have three young children and are living illegally in an art studio. The film documents the two families and their quest to see if they will be able to find stable housing.

“Unzipped” also shows the opposition to the unhoused. Venice Stakeholders Association is a local group opposed to the opening of A Bridge Home, a housing project for those in need. Although taxpayers said yes to Bond HHH, they did not want a housing project built in the selected location at the MTA lot.

There is a scene in the film of a very heated town hall meeting where Mayor Garcetti and Councilmember Mike Bonin are present and almost unable to speak due to the loud and disruptive objections. The film also shows the gentrification controversy over the First Baptist Church (one of the oldest African-American churches in Venice) as it is sold to become a single-family housing project.
Gray admitted that it was a very challenging movie to make because the issues are so complex, and people are very divided on this topic.

“It has been such an emotional journey with this film – very humbling and eye opening,” Gray said. “I’m so grateful for all the Venetians who shared their stories with us, and so grateful for our incredible crew who worked so tirelessly on this project the past few years. We’re thrilled to start sharing with the world.”

“Unzipped” won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It will also be doing the festival circuit for several months before a spring release and a Venice premiere as a community film. 10% of the film’s profits will also be given to nonprofit organizations supporting affordable housing and unhoused people.

“Unzipped: An Autopsy of American Inequality”