I was kindly invited as a guest of a CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment [1-see below]) staff member to attend a lunchtime screening yesterday of independent film “Florent: Queen of the Meat Market”. It documents the story of a neighbourhood restaurant in downtown New York City, it’s charismatic activist owner Florent Morellet, and its customers, staff, and supporters that formed its the community of open, creative, and inquisitive people.
Founded in 1985 in the meat-packing district of New York, when it was still very much a working market and industrial neighbourhood, Florent was keen to open his restaurant doors to anyone and everyone – it was to be a welcoming place of featuring good food, lively atmosphere, and a sense of place. People would feel accepted (where in other places they might be turned away) – you could bring your kids, your granny, and your tranny here. Florent grew it slowly and it became a hub for wholesome French bistro food as much as it was a hub for community activism. Florent encourage people to use their imagination, make statements, vote, and campaign for important causes (he organised trips to Washington, DC in support of abortion and gay rights).
Fast forward 23 years to 2008 and the meat-packing district is trendy, now highly populated by residents as well as hotel guests, the glitterati, and tourist. Florent’s landlord wants to increase the rent which would in turn cause Florent to double prices at the restaurant. This film documents the positive attitude of community inclusion, tough decisions, emotion, and it is a poignant reminder to do what is important to you and your values and to have fun along the way.
The film I had the pleasure of watching is a personal copy of one of the CABE staff who studied urban planning with Florent Morellet and is a personal friend of his. I hope the film will feature in more independent film festivals and events so that more people can hear this fascinating story. Florent still has a holding page for the restaurant website, which also includes a gallery of interesting graphic design from the restaurant’s promotional material.
Here’s a trailer for the film, to give you a taste…
 Unfortunately, CABE is one of the quasi non-governmental agencies being cut by the government following the spending review towards the end of 2010. Programs and opportunities for sharing knowledge and learning like this screening will become less and less available.