Secret Mall Apartment Reveals the People that Lived Inside a Mall for 4 Years

Estimated read time 5 min read

The Big Picture

  • Secret Mall Apartment explores a group’s rebellion against gentrification by creating a hidden space inside a mall in Rhode Island.
  • The documentary showcases how Michael Townsend and his friends transformed a secret space into a complete residence without anyone knowing.
  • Jeremy Workman’s film captures the group’s journey over four years, showcasing their makeshift home and the cultural shift happening in Providence.

Jeremy Workman’s new film, Secret Mall Apartment, follows a man named Micheal Townsend and seven other people who rebelled against societal norms to create their very own secret apartment inside the Providence Place mall in Rhode Island. Collider’s Steve Weintraub got the opportunity to talk more about the documentary in greater detail with producer Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) and Workman at SXSW 2024. They expressed during their interview how the story’s depictions of art, gentrification, homeownership, and privilege served as the inspiration for the film. “But when you watch the movie, it’s what Jeremy does so well is like, you realize that this is a movie about like a cultural shift happening at that moment in the country really, which was just this gentrification in these kinds of, you know, post-war forgotten cities.” Eisberg says. “You know, there was this area that was kind of like lower income area, more working class and they just kind of like scooched them off to put in this gigantic wall and then kind of didn’t really invite them to be a part of it.”

What Is ‘Secret Mall Apartment’ About?

A photo of two guys blurred in motion sitting on a couch in front of a TV Image via Michael Townsend

In the 1990s, resentment over gentrification drove Michael and his friends to devise a clever scheme to create an apartment in a megamall vacant space. The film, which is based in Providence, Rhode Island, follows a group of friends who managed to turn a 700 square foot retail space into a complete residence. “And as we were saying, you know, they they start bringing in furniture, and they put up walls, and they’re bringing in cylinder block, and they’re literally building like a perfect, you know, perfect suburban, blissful existence in the middle of this mall while it’s still going on, and it’s still very busy and nobody knows.” Workman says.

The documentary shares real footage that was shot for four years with an early 2000s digital camera, demonstrating how Townsend and his friends set up their secret abode inside the megamall. “They discovered a secret space that was sort of like under a cineplex, like buried inside, like the architecture, and they decided to turn it into their secret apartment, which they kept going for four years, living in it on and off. And the whole time they filmed it all along the way, and they turned it into this space where, you know, they brought in furniture, they tapped into the electricity, they brought in televisions and couches and playstations even.” Workman says.

Watch the full interview with Steve Weintraub above and below is exactly what they talked about which includes new information on Jesse Eisenberg’s next movie.

Jesse Eisenberg & Jeremy Workman

  • How have they been describing the documentary to friends and family?
  • How they had the secret apartment for 4 years.
  • How Eisenberg lived near the mall when he was filming a project in 2007.
  • The way the Providence Place mall was built and how terrible the parking garage is.
  • 4:30 – How did Eisenberg get attached to the project and what’s amazing about this story.
  • 6:45 – How difficult was it get to clearance on all the footage? How did they clear the War of the Worlds popcorn bag?
  • 9:45 – What is the plan for the world premiere at the Providence Place mall?
  • 11:10 – Who did they show it to in the editing room for honest feedback and to help shape the film?
  • 12:35 – Did they make any big changes to the film in the editing room as a result of early screenings?
  • 13:40 – If they could only watch one TV show for the rest of their lives, what would it be and why?
  • 16:30 – How Secret Mall Apartment could be turned into a TV series.
  • 19:25 – How the film shows what tape art is and how most people don’t know about it.
  • 20:30 – The great art installation the artists built above a sewer.
  • 22:20 – Eisenberg talks about how his new film, A Real Pain, was one of the big sales at Sundance 2024.
  • 23:15 – Eisenberg talks about writing TV shows and movies in his time off from acting.
  • 24:08 – Eisenberg talks about his upcoming stuff like Now You See Me 3 and how he’s directing another movie this fall that’s partly a musical.
  • 25:50 – Workman talks about his other projects.
Secret Mall Apartment SXSW Promo Image

Secret Mall Apartment (2024)

In 2003, eight Rhode Islanders created a secret apartment inside a busy mall and lived there for four years, filming everything along the way. Far more than a prank, the secret apartment became a deeply meaningful place for all involved.

Release Date March 8, 2024

Director Jeremy Workman

Runtime 91 Minutes

Main Genre Documentary