SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! I attended the SXSW Film Festival in 2019 for the first time. It was also the first time I spent any significant amount of time in Texas. As you may know, Austin is the home of SXSW and one of the fastest growing and developing cities in America. Austin is a keen example of the intended and unintended consequences of gentrification sweeping the nation.
Through the Plexi-Glass: The Last Days of the San Jose is a story that takes gentrification head-on in unexpected ways. Liz Lambert is a real estate developer who decided to chronicle her own story dealing with gentrification. Given her attitude and demeanor, it’s almost unfair to call Lambert a real estate developer because she doesn’t fit the stereotype.
Lambert’s love of Austin runs deep. So much so that in 1995, she purchased a historical and seedy hotel known as the San Jose. She planned to renovate it in hopes of improving the community. Though she bought the property relatively cheap, renovating it would cost over a million dollars. No bank would loan her the money because she couldn’t prove the hotel could make money. If she had any hope of getting a loan, Lambert would have to run and operate the hotel long enough to satisfy the bank… and why not shoot a documentary at the same time?
In Through the Plexi-Glass, Liz Lambert not only documents the struggle of running a failing business but also brings us into the lives of Austin citizens who stayed at the hotel long before South Congress street changed into one of the hippest areas of Austin. It was an eclectic group of people, from a single mother and her daughter to a rising musician on the cusp of landing an MTV deal. She also had to deal with guests abusing drugs and other reasons you stay at a hotel for a few hours.
“…[Lambert] purchased the historical and seedy hotel…she planned to renovate it in hopes of improving the community.”
Through the Plexi-Glass is about the tenants’ stories as much as it is about Lambert learning to become a hotelier. Life is hard, and we’re all trying to make it day-to-day. The San Jose served as the semi-permanent residence for many people. Though It would never be a home, it was a place where people stayed before moving on to the next big thing… or the eventual worst thing. As a filmmaker, despite the basic presentation, Lambert captures this struggle in an authentic and honest way.
After watching the film, I could not be more resolute in knowing that I never, ever want to own a hotel. As time passed, Lambert’s stress grew more and more. She spent way too much time collecting money, listening to empty promises, and locking people out of their rooms for non-payment. The overwhelming sense of losing that balance between helping the community and running a business proves to be the throughline that keeps audiences invested.
Through the Plexi-Glass: The Last Days of the San Jose contrasts human stories with a business opportunity that would forever change the face of South Congress Street. It does so in a realistic manner, with the highs and lows on full display. The film addresses some weighty topics that are still relevant today.
Through the Plexi-Glass: The Last Days of the San Jose screened at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
"…authentic and honest..."