Saturday, December 10, 2011

Battle for Brooklyn

Battle for Brooklyn, one of the 15 documentaries shortlisted for this year's Oscar nomination, is a fascinating story spanning five years in the life of activist Daniel Goldstein. Goldstein finds himself a significant cog in a fight to stop/change a controversial redevelopment project.

The project at the center of this documentary is the Atlantic Yards development. At the center of the Atlantic Yards project is the construction of Barclays Center where the New Jersey Nets are to relocate in time for the 2012-2013 season when they are to become the Brooklyn Nets.

The project, which is more than Barclay Center but a broader redevelopment which includes street changes, residential and retail space, transportation and parking. As a result, this also meant significant government cooperation, and ultimately a plan to use eminent domain law to take over the area.

This is where much of the focus of the expose is based - eminent domain abuse where by a private company (Forest City Enterprise's New York subsidiary Forest City Ratner) will gain a financial advantage from a government decree that the area is blighted and able to be destroyed, and residents evicted for a public good.

Now, it seems that in general most residents except the deal - except for Daniel Goldstein who picks up a fight that leads him down a path of being a spokesman and challenge to the project.

The film paints Goldstein as an unlikely activist, and maybe that is the case, but Goldstein certainly has some traits that seem to make him dedicated to a cause, with a great deal of personal sacrifice, which for this viewer, left him wondering if his cause was truly worth it.

Beyond the eminent domain abuse, the other controversy in the film, is simply whether the Brooklyn Net's project, including the Atlantic Yards Development is really what Brooklyn residents are interested in, and whether they are interested in the change this will bring to their city.

What ends up being a point of disgust in the film is when there is a presentation of manipulation on the part of Forest City Ratner by funding a non-profit (BUILD) and working behind the scenes on a community cooperative plan, that misrepresents neighborhood interest.

Related to this, I was disappointed to see Brooklyn religious leaders used as pawns to lead community meetings that in the end it seems these religious leaders community pull was bought at a price, and are speaking out of motivation apart from their religious convictions.

Ultimately, apart from the story of this documentary, the directors Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley do an exceptional job telling this story, keeping it moving with great momentum and capturing a story that uniqueness is in part for the way the story is documented over many years with unexpected influences in the developing story such as a changing economic landscape. Also, the original music by Derek Bermel and David Reid was a fantastic addition.

Real-estate development seems to be interesting in most situations when you see a place change over time from one state to another, and when that real-estate development is in Brooklyn, New York, you can only expect it to be all the more interesting, and I'm sure years from now when the project is further developed, a film of this nature helps capture how an area got from point A to point B. This film helps capture the details, some of those, not so glamorous.

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