Why put on a series like this now?
The films are all movies that were made over many years, and documented a changing city in ways that the "media" has been unable to. In large part I think they were inspired by a wave of "development without representation." In each case the filmmakers observed a government/business effort to push through zoning changes that brought massive revenue to developers in ways that denied any real input to those citizens most affected by the plans. Gentrification and development are nothing new. But what's taken place in neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Downtown Brooklyn, to name just two, are the results of a very different phenomena. While being floated as normal change, in fact what we've seen in the past decade is not organic gentrification, but a remarkably calculated land grab designed by our mayor, the City Planning Committee and a few greedy developers. These folks are owning both sides of the argument. It's rather impressive, really.
What's at stake?
What's at stake is that the same people we are electing into office are swiping away our neighborhoods and manipulating laws to do so. For example, a number of the films go into great details about the abuses of eminent domain. The good news is that while what's happened in Williamsburg and Downtown is a fait accompli, there are still many other neighborhoods that are under scrutiny. If the residents of those neighborhoods get involved now, there's much that can be done to protect their communities. By the way, the documentaries in this series are as personal as they are political. And though they are political, they are rarely polemical.
Who do you hope to reach?
Another unique dimension to the series is that I wanted to approach it as a cooperative effort. So I am inviting all the filmmakers, their films' subjects, and various other activists, politicians, neighbors, and business owners to take part in the overall series, not just in their own film. By the way, I welcome any developers, planners or others who feel that the development that's taken place is a good thing to join us.
How did this project come about? When did you realize you could curate a whole series about Brooklyn gentrification?
The Filmwax Film series has always prioritized local filmmakers. This subject in particular has really become a girder for the series. In fact, the first film I ever screened was Battle For Brooklyn, in a rough cut state. The September 26th screening with Brooklyn Reconstructed will be the fourth time Filmwax has been involved in a screening of Michael [Galinsky] and Suki [Hawley]'s film. I originally met Michael and Suki because our kids went to P.S. 11 in Clinton Hill together.
Some time ago, while Kelly Anderson and Allison Lirish Dean had a Kickstarter campaign for their film, My Brooklyn, Filmwax hosted a fundraiser party to help. Filmwax also screened Isabel Hill's Made in Brooklyn some months ago. So, it was a combination of the subject popping up over and over, and I tapped into the zeitgeist.
On a personal level, I guess I've experienced something of an awakening in the past couple of years. Through this process I've become something of an activist myself. I've watched too many Joe Sitts and Bruce Ratners laughing all the way to the bank while those less privileged are being systematically displaced and communities disenfranchised.
This series does not have an expiration date. I'm actually considering another two films that have been brought to my attention. I would also love to possibly include Chad Freidrichs's The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, an amazing film. We can always make a new poster. I welcome any suggestions. (Adam can be reached at adam[at]filmwax[dot]com.)
Why are there so many documentaries right now about gentrification and Brooklyn? I mean, gentrification is happening elsewhere as well, right? Are there such festivals happening all over the country?
For one thing, half of the documentary filmmakers in America live in Brooklyn, so the density of filmmakers coupled with the density of corruption created a perfect storm. Seriously, I think there has been a groundswell of grassroots activism in the past few years. Two examples of this are clearly Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring. I'm not trying to compare our film series to those events, but to illustrate that grassroots movements are taking on very new shapes and forms. In fact, the issues and ideas brought up by all of these films simply illustrate and make it more clear why Occupy Wall Street might blossom. One of my filmmakers said on my radio show that these films are our Jane Jacobs. It was a very astute observation.
Over time, having programmed so many events on the subject, I've developed a real sense of social responsibility, and this series is an extension of that. I should say that I'm only one of many who feel this way, so I think someone else would've made this series happen whether or not I helped facilitate this one. Are there other series like this one? I don't know! Good question. We should probably take this on the road. San Diego Reconstructed... Toronto Reconstructed... I would love to see that.
It seems like these films are critical of gentrification and development. Is it as easy as "gentrification/development is bad"? Or is there "good gentrification" and "bad gentrification"?
To be clear, these films are not critical of gentrification and development; they are critical of greed and corruption. A city can change organically, as a result of many variables. And this can lead to much good. As Daniel Goldstein, the subject of Battle For Brooklyn, says, "develop, don't destroy." So, if you want to put it the terms of "good" or "bad," yes, there is a difference.
More info about Brooklyn Reconstructed, including a list and schedule of films, on Filmwax's website.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart