Battle for Brooklyn


The first two things you’re immediately struck by in Battle for Brooklyn are the senses of paranoia and grandeur. This literally is a battle, and the film prepares you in appropriately epic fashion. But seeing man after man take the podium in his crisp suit during the film’s opening minutes gives you the sense that this battle was over before it even got started. Yet, men like Daniel Goldstein aren’t afraid, even if they are being watched by hidden cameras everywhere they go.

The battle is over property in Brooklyn, where some rich developers want to build massive skyscrapers and an arena (to host the New Jersey Nets basketball team). In order to build, however, they need to buy a lot of land, much of which belongs to homeowners and small businesses. Eminent domain, of course, is what you might know such a process as, but typically, that law is only invoked for public needs, i.e. a highway. Goldstein and a whole host of other residents are infuriated that they’re homes are being seized in the name of sports. But with their opponents prepared to throw around hundreds of millions of dollars like it was nothing, it’s unclear if their defiance can actually do anything.

Despite the somewhat grandiose promise of jobs and prosperity for all, it’s debatable whether or not this project is actually in the public’s best interests. And it’s certainly interesting that both sides have a diverse group of people advocating for it. There are rich and poor for the project, as well as rich and poor against it. What’s unacceptable to both the participants and this viewer is the resolute way the residents and business owners were completely left out of the planning process. When the project’s detractors come up with an alternative that won’t require eminent domain, they aren’t even afforded the chance to present it. This gives one the sense that the entire thing is some vendetta, years in the making, over the Brooklyn Dodgers leaving town. Now is that a good enough reason to evict people from their homes?

The film does something else quite interesting in chronicling how his fight against the project impacts Daniel’s personal life. He starts the film as an engaged graphic designer, and becomes a figurehead of the resistance who marries a different woman. His first fiance leaves him because he turns down a very big offer from the developers, Forest City Ratner, but he ultimately connects with a fellow activist who understands his passion. In Daniel, a face is given to this situation, which for his cause’s sake, and the sake of this film, is a much more successful way to tug at one’s heartstrings.

Some would argue that activist documentaries don’t have a place in today’s world, what with the 24-hour news cycle souring any notion of a smart but slanted discourse. Battle for Brooklyn, however, is a fine example of how to sell someone on a point of view without hammering them over the head with it. The film’s points are cogent, and they’re presented in a very compelling manner. Yes, it takes sides, but after seeing the film, you’ll understand why. The issues shown involve a great deal of passion, and though it might be too late to stop the Atlantic Yards project, one can only hope people take notice and don’t let something like this happen again.

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