Roger Paradiso Documents a Dying Village

By George Capsis

After a showing of The Lost Village at Cinema Village, I met its award-winning director Roger Paradiso and discovered him to be gentle and friendly, so I was pleased to receive his interview responses, which reveal some of Paradiso’s hard convictions.

But, of course, the film speaks for him. No one will forget the image of a masked NYU student confessing in a Washington Square rally that she turned to prostitution to pay the exorbitant tuition fees.

Indeed the film is a catalogue of how inflation has turned what was once a haven for artists with cheap rents to a rent regulation trap in which seniors must walk up and down five flights four times a day with an even more aged dog. The Lost Village is Roger Paradiso’s eloquence.

Why did you call your film ‘The Lost Village’ and what is it about?
I feel that there are many lost Villages in our country (and around the world). I shot in Greenwich Village because of its cultural history and its vigilant citizens who continue to fight to save it. We have many of those citizens and experts speak in the film. Some feel that they are losing the fight because the rents and cost of living are too high for artists and the average person.

Why is that?
I don’t know how many readers remember when New York City almost went bankrupt in 1975. President Jerry Ford told New York City that he would not give federal funds to bail them out. The Republicans never liked New York, especially conservative Republicans. They seemed threatened by New York’s cultural diversity. The Teachers Union bailed out the City using its pension fund. Since that near-bankruptcy, every mayor, even the liberal Ed Koch, has succumbed to the wants and needs of the real estate oligarchs, the Wall Street gang, and the bankers in order to sustain the needs of New York City.

We became a real estate- and Wall Street-driven economy. We all became commodities bought, sold, and traded. Our homes were investments, our food a commodity, and our fuel a speculators game. A ‘service economy’ they called it. Basically, New York City has been stripped of manufacturing jobs. It’s been a gradual descent into a world of expensive corporate skyscraper apartments and offices. Everything was for sale in New York City including the Village. And the oligarchs made a killing, just like they did in most of the large cities in America. Some say the politicians allowed this because they were given large campaign funds courtesy of the oligarchs. Some of us, including the oligarchs, are very good at making money. But the oligarchs are not so good at putting money into distribution for the benefit of all.

Don’t all the politicians talk about fighting for small businesses and for the working man?
If they cared about “the little guy” would you see property taxes skyrocket along with rents? We lose many thousands of small businesses every year due to high rents and taxes. The Bleecker Street Cinema left, as did Brentano’s Bookstore. Too many to name. The Village Gate. Did you know that commercial tenants have virtually no rights? Artists and the working class are constantly being displaced, and move from place to place in search of a home. Manhattan has become an international playground for the rich and famous.

What about NYU? Wasn’t it a reasonably priced school?
Well let’s talk about that. NYU is one of the biggest private landlords in the City. They keep buying up the Village despite the concerns of the residents. And they are one of the most expensive schools in the country at around $72,900 per school year for one full-time student.

But NYU is not alone. According to Bloomberg,” college and tuition fees have increased 1,120% since 1978.” I heard about homeless students, hungry students at NYU. With that high tuition, how could most students afford to live and play in the Village unless they have a trust fund? Most students today live way off campus in Queens and Brooklyn. On September 1, 2015, there was a rally of faculty and students against NYU, the ‘Corporate University.’ I heard one masked female student say that she paid for school by prostituting herself. That got my attention. And I decided to do a film about this decadence.

Forbes also reports that student loan debt is now the second-highest consumer debt category—behind only mortgage debt— and higher than both credit cards and auto loans.” According to Forbes, student loan debt in 2017 has reached a staggering $1.3 trillion. And around the country, there are many thousands of male and female students selling themselves to pay their tuition and debts.

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