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by Lela Scott MacNeil
June 9th, 2011

Photo credit: Tracy Collins

The Battle for Brooklyn, which screens for FREE tonight in Ft. Greene Park, is an edge-of-your-seat, David vs. Goliath thriller of a documentary. It follows what happens when the government of New York City joins forces with a major private developer to kick people out of their homes, and those people make the simple decision not to leave.

We spoke with directors Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley about how they became involved in the fight against Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yard’s projects, and what they hope people will take away from this important film.

Rooftop Films: What is the film about (for those who haven’t seen it)?

Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley: Battle for Brooklyn is about one Brooklyn neighborhood’s fight against the corporate developers and political backers of the Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.  The film focuses on graphic designer Daniel Goldstein whose apartment sits at what would be center court of the new arena.  A reluctant activist, Daniel is dragged into the fight because he can’t accept that the government should use the power of Eminent Domain to take his new apartment and hand it off to a private developer, Forest City Ratner.

RF: How did you initially find out about the situation with Atlantic Yards and what prompted you to get involved with documenting the opposition to the project?

MG & SH: We read about it in the Times, and what we read sounded like a press release. We weren’t sure, so when we saw one of Patti Hagan’s fliers denouncing the project, we called her right away and began to shoot. When we started, we spent ten days following Patti around the site as she did a census and met with journalists and others. After a week or so she said to us, “You should meet Dan Goldstein. He’s a fighter and I bet he’s one of the only loft-dwellers who will stick this out.”
 And she was right.

RF: One of the most striking and disturbing things highlighted by the film is the lack of any authentic dialogue between the community and the developers. What kind of impact do you hope the film will achieve in terms of readdressing this significant imbalance?

MG & SH: The idea that policies should come from the top down – that city government and business know what’s best for the people – is a prevailing sentiment guiding the policies of the Bloomberg Administration.  But it also relates to the Federal Government and the Courts. Everything is run like a business. But government isn’t a business. Communities aren’t a business.  Hopefully the film illuminates this imbalance – the powerful making decisions for the little guy – and give people a tool for understanding what is being done in their name, with their tax dollars.

Also, the film strives to illuminate how you can’t trust the press to give you a full picture of any situation – hopefully people come out of this film energized, skeptical, and ready to do their own research on important topics that affect their lives deeply.

RF: The issue surrounding Eminent Domain is shown to be central to the struggle in the film and the New York laws are clearly exposed as archaic and unjust. Are you still optimistic that these laws could ultimately be changed or abolished?

MG & SH: After the Supreme Court’s Kelo vs. New London decision – which made it easier for the government to use eminent domain to take someone’s property to give to a private developer – 43 state’s changed their laws to readdress that problem.  But not New York, which has one of the worst records on eminent domain abuse in the country. It is now becoming too obvious how far the state is away from what is just that I think these laws have to change somehow soon – and we hope the film will help propel that motion forward.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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