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With the opening concert at the Barclays Center slated for Friday, we caught up with Michael Galinksy and Suki Hawley, creators of the critically-acclaimed film, Battle for Brooklyn.
Battle for Brooklyn follows Brooklyn apartment owner Daniel Goldstein and his fight to save his home from real estate developer Bruce Ratner and other powerful New York City figures and officials seeking to displace residents from their homes in order to make way for Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development project.
The story documents the broken promises and manipulation used by a few powerful men to drain the city of public funds and impose eminent domain on Brooklyn residents for a private project.
In a two-part interview, the Voice brings you a series of excerpts from our conversation with Michael and Suki as they gear-up for a free-screening of their movie up the street from the Jay-Z Concert on Friday night.
What’s your response to Bruce Ratner calling the film all lies in a recent New York magazine article?
Michael: It’s disconcerting that someone who has that much access to power can make a statement like that — that continues the narrative that somehow the movie is untrue. When in fact, everything in it was fact checked. We made so sure that there wasn’t anything out place. So to call it all lies, or to declare that Dan Goldstein is lying, is kind of surreal really.
Suki: It’s very surreal, but also from a PR perspective, it makes sense. What I find surreal is that New York magazine just printed that without any kind of rebuttal or any chance for the writer to take a look at the film and decide for himself. Instead he referred to Ratner as a mensch for even considering Dan a formidable opponent.
How has the film been received?
Michael: The film across the board has gotten really great reviews — from film critics. One of the things about information is that we tend to live in bubbles. So people who have seen the movie outside of New York really get it, and see it as this kind of even-handed message. But people in New York have a difficult time because the media has been so one-sided. Every story that’s written about it is based on a press release from the developer. So when do they write about it? When the developer has a press release that [says] we’re going to do X, Y, or Z. As such, most people in New Yorker don’t really have a full sense of what the story is or what was at stake, or the amount subsidies that went in to it, and the lack of community involvement — the fact that nobody got to vote on it.
People don’t realize at all. They kind of trust government and think the government is going to do the right thing; you kind of have to. It’s very troubling from our perspective that the movie then can be summarily dismissed like that — without people getting to see it.
Michael on what viewers can expect from the film:
Michael: People haven’t seen it, and they hear this thing about it being all lies or whatever. The truth is, it is very much It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s more of a Frank Capra film than a Michael Moore film. It’s a movie . . . there’s not a lot of facts, there’s not a lot of figures. There’s very little that could be held up, even possibly, as a lie. That’s what’s so disconcerting about that kind of statement being taken at face value.
Michael and Suki on the level of objectivity in the film:
Suki: When we went into the project there was a baseline idea that the government was going to protect the regular person. That that’s what the government’s main job is, to make sure that everything is even and fair, and I think coming out of this, it’s definitely more clear how people with connections and money can definitely get favored treatment form even the government.
. . . In a sense, that’s how we’ve come to the opinions that we have because we did come in objectively. It wasn’t like we were going to make this activist film against this [project]. But when you see something like that you just can’t say, “Oh, these two sides are even, they’re telling the same story.” There’s just not. On side is not playing fairly. So you’re going to some out with a particular view of how this went down.
Michael: What’s very frustrating to us is that we were not activists. We did not allow the movie to become a part of the activism against the project because we thought that would kind of ghettoize the film as being something that was part of [the activism], so you wouldn’t take it seriously. It wasn’t real journalism. I think in the end, as a real journalist, you saw it, and said, “Hey this completely fair probably.” There’s nothing in here that’s a lie. And so it’s really frustrating to us to then have the film be kind of dismissed as being only a part of some fight rather than a really really precise document of something that happened.
Can you describe the feeling of walking into the finished arena after almost a decade of following its development?
Michael: Look, it’s a nice arena. It’s fine. I like basketball; I really do. I would say that the vast majority of people who were against this project, are not against basketball. What they’re against is a really rigged and one-sided process. So this very powerful developer, who’s getting millions, hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies, can say “basketball, basketball, basketball, Hoops and Housing.” It like a magic trick to make everyone not look at the fact that he’s pocketing $300 million in subsidies, $200 million dollars in naming rights, this weird green card scam that netted them another like -and-something million dollars in no interest bonds. All of these things, that’s what we’re against, and we’re against this impermeable cronyism of it.
I walked into the arena the other day, and like I said, it was nice. There were all these wonderful people there, cheering this wonderful event, but everyone on that stage was a government official or a billionaire or both, in fact several were both billionaires and government officials. There’s a kind of myopic view of the world that shuts everybody out who has a counter-viewpoint. And because money and government are so powerful, the media tends to support that process.
Come back tomorrow for pt. 2 as Michael and Suki discuss Jay-Z and the impact of their film.
In the meantime, check out the trailer for the film.
Battle for Brooklyn is playing five times in New York this week culminating in Friday’s free screening up the block from the Barclays Center.