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Saturday, December 31, 2011
Exclusive Hawaii Premiere: Battle for Brooklyn, Academy Award Contending Documentary About Eminent Domain
By Robert Thomas @ 8:02 PM :: 5400 Views :: Energy, Environment, National News, Ethics

Exclusive Hawaii Premiere: Battle for Brooklyn, Academy Award Contending Documentary About Eminent Domain

by Robert Thomas, InverseCondemnation.com

On January 3 and 4, 2012, at 1:00 and 7:30 p.m. each day, the Honolulu Academy of Arts Doris Duke Theater is presenting the Hawaii premiere of Battle For Brooklyn, the Academy Award-contending documentary about the Atlantic Yards eminent domain fight. We are lucky enough to have the exclusive Hawaii showing of this important, informative, and entertaining film. More information (and ticket purchase) from the Academy of Arts web site here.

There will be Q & A sessions following each screening with the filmmakers and (perhaps) a special guest, TBA.

The film has received fantastic reviews (a New York Times critics' pick), and recently made the short list for films in the running for the Best Documentary feature Academy Award. We reviewed the film here, and highly recommend it.

Battle For Brooklyn is an especially timely film for Hawaii audiences: it chronicles one homeowner's years-long fight to save his property from being taken by eminent domain so the land could be used for a new arena for the NBA's New Jersey Nets, and Honolulu is in the opening phases of the $5 billion rail project, the most expensive public works project in its history. The rail project will require the taking of hundreds of homes and businesses, and Battle For Brooklyn's inside look at the politics of eminent domain is an eye-opener about how the process of taking private property really works.

Come join us!

* * * * *

'Battle for Brooklyn' coming to rail project near you

by Robert Thomas, InverseCondemnation.com

How would you react if the government ordered you to give up your home or business so a developer could build an arena for his basketball team? Accept what money is offered, or dig in your heels and fight?

"Battle for Brooklyn," the Oscar-contending documentary premiering in Hawaii next week, chronicles one homeowner's fight against the city's taking of his property. But the film leaves open the question of whether he did the right thing, for the right reasons.

The film compresses seven years of events into 93 minutes, but here's a short summary: The NBA's New Jersey Nets want to move to Brooklyn, but there's no arena. So the city and the team's owner, a politically connected developer, design "Atlantic Yards," a 22-acre "affordable housing" project the crown jewel of which, not surprisingly, is the Nets' new arena.

Despite their claim the project will "start from scratch," the developer does not own 22 vacant acres in New York. Instead, homes and businesses located where he wants his arena will have to be destroyed. Owners who can't be convinced to sell will have their properties taken by eminent domain.

When these landowners object, their properties are declared legally "blighted" and thus ripe for forced acquisition, although nothing is truly blighted about them. What of their lives, their dreams, and their properties?

"Change is hard for everybody," the developer's public relations man smoothly counsels.

"Battle for Brooklyn" details a New York eminent domain controversy, but it is particularly relevant to Hawaii audiences. Honolulu has launched its largest-ever public works project, the $5.1 billion-plus rail development, which will envelop homes and businesses currently in the way.

This film is a crash course in how decisions to take property really get made, and how a single citizen can galvanize a community. Although the city and the developer pitch the project as fueled by "jobs, jobs, jobs" and affordable housing, neither materialize. The New York City Council hearing and redevelopment agency meeting suggest the neighborhood was not condemned for the public good, but because someone else had greater influence at City Hall. There is much here for Hawaii audiences to learn.

However, the film does not fall into the trap of becoming a political screed. Instead, it tells an emotional story that will appeal to even those unfamiliar with the machinations of eminent domain. Its heart is a character study of Daniel Goldstein, the property owner who reluctantly becomes the sole holdout among his 130 neighbors. He doesn't intend to become a community organizer, and is clearly not a professional activist. At his initial press conference, what at first appears to be the wind moving his notes is revealed as his hands shaking. He evolves from bewildered homeowner to sophisticated spokesman and property rights activist, and over the course of the film becomes more articulate, more committed, and increasingly angry with what he decries as a "failure of democracy."

Goldstein's battle does not come without a price, however. Late in the film, self-awareness flashes across his face as he admits his fight has not really been about protecting his modest condo, but more about his neighborhood's collective loss of control and the lack of respect shown by the city and the developers.

"This is not about this apartment. That would be insane," he admits.

Is it insanity to resist being dispossessed of your property, even when your struggle proves uphill, and may ultimately be hopeless? See "Battle for Brooklyn" and decide for yourself.

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