Directed, Shot & Edited by Esra Demirel
Score by Andrew Orkin
Additional Photography by Teun Voeten
The Freedom Tunnel is an Amtrak rail tunnel that runs under Riverside Park from 72nd Street to 125th Street on the Upper West Side of New York. Built in the 1930s, it became unused as a rail tunnel in the late 80s, early 90s as other means of transportation became more dominant. As such, the homeless of the city began to move in and construct shantytowns. Tent cities and homes constructed out of crude, poor-quality materials began to rise, with hundreds of people taking up residence, using pirated electricity and water in some locations. Due to its underground nature, graffiti artists took advantage of what they saw as a large empty canvas. Popular artists like Chris Pape (Freedom) have left their mark in the tunnel, producing iconic works and even reproductions of classical art.
In 1991, Amtrak took control of the tunnel and began working on renovations for use with its Empire Connection line. What then began was an NYPD-backed forcible eviction of the Freedom Tunnel’s inhabitants and a massive cleanup, which led to many of the murals being erased from the walls.
In this documentary, a former resident of the tunnel, Bernard Monte Isaac becomes our tour guide through the tunnel and we find out about the fascinating history behind this tunnel through Bernard’s experience. We follow him as he looks for his
old friends from the tunnel and meets new people who’ve taken up residence in more hidden areas.