The Atlantic Yards Odyssey, On Film

by |
05/25/2011 4:00 AM |

In Battle for Brooklyn, the husband-and-wife filmmaking team Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley, fromClinton Hill, follow the Atlantic Yards saga from its announcement in 2003, through all the backroom deals, public activism and eminent-domain court battles, up to the present vacant expanse, all from the dramatic vantage of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s Daniel Goldstein, the last of the Pacific Street holdouts. The film screens on June 3rd as the opening-night selection of the Brooklyn Film Festival. Galinsky and Hawley recently answered some questions over email.

When you started filming in 2003, were you as skeptical of the Atlantic Yards project as you eventually became?
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.

Daniel Goldstein develops into something of a protagonist in your film, as he did in the Atlantic Yards opposition…
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.”
She was right, of course.

Did any arguments for the project strike you as particularly persuasive?

Once you’ve looked at what the numbers really mean, none of the arguments for the project were persuasive in the least. In the film, we don’t really go down the path of dealing with all of the figures because that’s a different kind of movie. However, we can go over some of them here. 15,000 jobs were promised—those were 1,000 construction jobs for 15 years. In reality, there are now 114 jobs on site and 14 have gone to local workers. So the idea that this project would alleviate unemployment is absurd—the argument used to justify the use of eminent domain. And as Daniel often pointed out, any development project would create jobs and housing—it’s how you do that project that really counts.

How do you decide when you’ve “covered” an important aspect of your story? How do you prioritize which points, made by your subjects, need to be edited into the film, or countered, or followed-up, or emphasized by a title card or expert talking head?
In the end, we had to stick to the idea that the film was from the point of view of Dan’s struggle to stop the project. We often use talking heads and cards during our process of creating the film. Then we find a way to show what the talking head or card was telling us and we take it out. It’s a longer process, but it allows people watching the film to do the work of coming to an understanding themselves.

For example, we came to realize that the film was really telling the story of how government operates in tandem with business in Brooklyn these days (in the city? in the country?). It’s from a very top-down approach, as if communities or schools are a business. The government makes sweeping decisions on behalf of many citizens and creates a “new” community from scratch. But it turns out the community was developing organically on its own, which is precisely why Forest City Ratner really wanted this deal to happen. Far from being a “blighted” neighborhood that was in dire need of government intervention, it was a thriving neighborhood, complete with three newly converted condo buildings, with condos fetching half a million dollars or more at the time.

Has anyone from Forest City Ratner seen the 
film yet?
We showed a rough cut of the film at a legal conference on eminent domain in February. The lead attorney for the Empire State Development Corporation was in the front row, along with the judge who handled Daniel’s eviction. The attorney did not like the film but the judge did, and we guess in the end it’s the judge that matters!

Battle for Brooklyn also screens June 9th at Fort Greene Park in a free Rooftop Films presentation, and will open theatrically at
Cinema Village and indieScreen on June 17th