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Review: Battle for Brooklyn

Buzz for Battle for Brooklyn could not have come at a more appropriate time. Showcasing 2011’s typical “Occupy Wall Street” storyline, it follows one of documentary filmmaking’s classic archetypal structures: the corporation vs. the little guy. And, like so many real-life outcomes, David doesn’t always beat Goliath.

Unlike the Occupy movement, the Battle for Brooklyn had a resilient leader – one who wasn’t going to back down for anyone, not the mayor, not a reverend, not a Russian Billionaire, and not even the world’s most celebrated hip-hop icon.

Directed by Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley, the film chronicles Brooklyn resident Daniel Goldstein’s fight against private developer, Bruce Ratner, who wants to buy the borough’s historic Prospect Heights neighbourhood, tear it down, and replace it with 16 skyscrapers and an arena for the New Jersey Nets (the team he owned at the time). Known as the Atlantic Yards project, the venture was slated to be the densest real estate development in U.S. history – a plan that divided neighbours, many who actually welcomed the prospect of construction jobs, affordable housing and million-dollar buyouts.

For the large part, Battle for Brooklyn takes place chez Goldstein in the only occupied apartment of a vacant building, its previous owners bought out by Ratner and his associates. The filmmakers act almost as pseudo-friends of Goldstein and his activist wife (who he met, married and impregnated during the making of the film).

In a feeble attempt to provide an opposing perspective, the directors interview Ratner and his pack of bad guys, only including clips that bring out the worst in the money-hungry men. It’s clear that Galinsky and Hawley are behind Goldstein and his band of followers and it’s as if they are not afraid to show it.

Fighting for justice

In its role as a pulpit for the activists, the film is extremely successful, divulging wrongdoings that most of us would abhor. Battle for Brooklyn exposes corruption of corporate ownership, sloppy reporting by local and national media, and the ease with which people sacrifice what they believe in just to get their hands on a fat wad of cash. Not to mention, it portrays rap legend Jay-Z – part owner of the New Jersey Nets – as a corporate blockhead who disregards the plight of his fellow brooklynites, a bold move considering he often claims to “represent” his native district till the day he dies.

What puts Battle for Brooklyn in a class of its own is the filmmaking process? The directors dedicated seven years to the fight, documenting every detail and development of the process for more than half a decade. The audience gains a feeling that the filmmakers are living with Goldstein and his partner as certain scenes reveal the unorganized, almost desperate state of their apartment – the exact location where the anti-climactic hearing results are revealed seven years after the battle began.

Overall, Battle for Brooklyn accomplishes what its directors intended: the exposure of a greedy corporation’s fiscal intentions and lack of concern for people. In terms of the film receiving critical acclaim, including the rumour of an Oscar nomination, it seems to be a result of the immense dedication Galinsky and Hawley invested in the filming; a tedious process in which not many filmmakers invest these days. Battle for Brooklyn was an aid to the campaign against eminent domain, and the coverage the film has gotten is almost a win in itself for Goldstein and his accomplices.

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Kristy is an associate producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto. She is a recent graduate of City University London, where she got her Master’s in International Journalism with a specialism in radio reporting. She also holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she studied print and TV journalism, as well as documentary filmmaking. Early on, Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans got her hooked on docs and she has been obsessed with them ever since. Her other favourites are Grizzly Man, The Invisible War, and anything on Al Jazeera English.

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