2011, Movies

Battle for Brooklyn (2011 Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley)

I have always had problems with the concept of eminent domain, or at least ever since I flirted with anarchism in my early 20s and developed my civil libertarianism. I don’t like the idea that government can decide to take the property of individuals because of some vague concept of “greater good.” But, that being said, eminent domain is a necessary practicality – without eminent domain we would have fewer highways, power plants, and so forth. Basically, if we want public projects, we need some degree of eminent domain written into constitutions. (Rights will always come into conflict with other rights, such is the way of the world.)

The problem is that eminent domain legislation has been and continues to be abused. This film documents the absolutely horrific abuse of of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards/Barclays Center project. I had only ever heard tangentially about this, in reference to the Nets, and I had no idea the extent to which this was a project by and for rich developers. Eminent domain is for public projects but in this case the development benefited the former and current owners of the Nets, nobody else. (Big surprise there.) It’s a story that needs to be heard.

However, I’m not sure this is the movie to do it. This movie appears more concerned with one man’s fight and the protests over the development than it cares about the broader issues. It’s interesting how the film glosses over huge chunks of time – it documents a seven year battle to prevent the development – but spends time showing people shouting/chanting and so forth. I guess we’re supposed to connect with the shouting people?

So I’m torn. It’s an important film, an important story, and one that we will likely see play out again and again, I’m sorry to say. But I don’t like the way the film was made and I think a better film could have been made about this – I think the story deserves a better treatment.

But I don’t know that I can be too hard on it, simply because this is an important issue.


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