A trio of filmmakers are currently raising funds for their documentary, The Domino Effect, which examines Williamsburg’s massive Domino project and places it in the larger context of New York City development. We caught up with producer Megan Sperry to ask her why the Domino story is unique, how it fits into the larger context of NYC development, and why it needs to be told now.
What makes the Domino development a bigger story than any of the similar surrounding developments?
The New Domino is basically Round Two of the 2005 rezoning that led to the other huge waterfront luxury developments like the Edge and Northside Piers. Only it’s about 30 percent bigger! It’s the equivalent of about five Chrysler Buildings of new development and will completely transform Southside Williamsburg.
How long have you been following the story?
We began working on The Domino Effect in February 2010 when CPC’s “New Domino” development proposal arrived at Community Board 1 for the start of the ULURP process.
What attracted you to Domino story?
Domino exemplifies the complex and controversial process of real estate development in New York and how the current system is failing the majority of New Yorkers. Williamsburg has experienced the negative impacts of excessive luxury development more than any other neighborhood in the city. Average rents have doubled there in the last ten years and over 10,000 industrial jobs have been lost, yet developers, politicians, and special interests continue to push these mega-projects through.
Isn’t this just the way NY works—neighborhoods change, rich and poor peoples migrate to different areas?
That’s an argument that is repeated all the time and it’s unfortunate because it encourages apathy and resignation to changes that many New Yorkers are unhappy about. Of course neighborhoods change over time, but what’s happened in North Brooklyn in the last decade—the incredible rise in the cost of living and the loss of industrial jobs—is the direct result of City policy. It’s not some force of nature, it’s the result of rezoning’s to allow luxury condo-mega-development, subsidizing these developers to the tune of over a billion dollars a year citywide, and failing to support rent-control laws.
What made you want to tell this story in film as opposed to, say, a magazine article?
The film addresses development from the perspective of those who are affected vs. those who effectively execute public policy in the neighborhood. This story not only has a better visual appeal than a magazine article, but from the perspective of educating the public, the film fills the storytelling void of how public/private partnerships change urban landscapes without taking into the account the needs of neighborhoods. In order for us to explain the issue in depth and keep people engaged we needed to be able to give them something that they could attach themselves to emotionally, and that really works better visually.
Why is there a time limit to your current fund raising drive?
We feel as though this film will have a greater impact if it is told as the Domino Project, and those like it, are breaking ground. Developments of this size will happen. If we can deliver our film to the public when the developments are taking place, right before their eyes, we will not only give community advocates a platform to stand on, but we will give other urban areas in the country a 10-20 year project to follow and watch live as a community is drastically altered by a development this large.
What work remains to be done on the film?
We are currently 70 percent complete with principal photography. The script is coming together for our initial 60-minute cut. So far our footage is mainly comprised of interview footage with local advocates, city council members, neighborhood residents, and local business owners. Editing of the film will start in early February in anticipation of a locked cut in late spring. And hopefully [it'll be] on screens around the neighborhood by Summer 2011.
How do you hope to see the film distributed when it’s done?
Distribution of the film will ultimately be decided by public reaction and effectiveness of our story. Because developments like this are happening around the country, we are hoping for distribution nationwide through public outlets such as PBS and/or grassroots organizations that would use this film to create public awareness.
You can learn more, donate, and watch the trailer at thedominoeffectmovie.com