Battle for Brooklyn
by Daniel Engelke
Opens at Cinema Village and indieScreen on June 17, 2011.
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“Excuse me, I came for the battle. Can you tell me which side to be on?”
Francois Ford Coppola once said, “The great hope is some little fat girl (with a home video camera) in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart and make a beautiful film.” Directing team Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley (Horns and Halos, 2002) surely embrace the former of Coppola’s theory in their “screw the man” documentary Battle for Brooklyn (2010), but fall incredibly short with the Mozart and beautiful film concept.
Battle for Brooklyn tells the story of Daniel Goldstein, a 30-something graphic designer who just found his dream apartment, and his battle against billionaire Bruce Ratner’s plan to make way for re-vitalized downtown Brooklyn, complete with new housing and an NBA stadium. The film, chronicling the seven-year struggle, is reminiscent of a yuppie David (Goldstein) versus a land-grabbing Goliath (Ratner). An age old story that usually leaves every viewer empathizing with the “little guy” and enraged at the tyrannical tycoon. I only wish I could have placed Battle for Brooklyn in this category.
Daniel is upset that his new, completely re-gutted and re-furbished Brooklyn apartment is soon falling victim to the government’s claim of eminent domain. As the apartment building tenants fall to the million dollar government payouts (we find out later that most of the former owners now live in better homes than before), Daniel becomes increasingly infuriated. In an attempt save his home, the consistently disheveled protagonist riles up “some” of the community in opposition to Rater’s new real estate plan.
What follows is 70 minutes of jumbled dialogue, a common problem when digital footage is edited incorrectly; a handful of signs in defiance of the building; and the sometimes interesting ups-and-downs of Daniel’s life. When the film does hit a point worth mentioning, exploiting New York’s disturbingly corrupt political underbelly, it collapses by focusing on Daniel’s reaction rather than the issues.
Throughout the film, the thesis of Battle for Brooklyn wavers from just to ridiculous. What could have exposed one of the largest scandals in New York’s real-estate history is muddled by amateur filmmaking and a lack of spirit. Daniel’s group, “Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn” proclaims itself as the voice of a desegregated community (“What they’re doing is clearly an issue of race lines. We know which race they’re trying to get rid of”), but are constantly in opposition with the group B.U.I.L.D., who supports the project’s promised employment boost. While the latter group is found out to have taken funds from Ratner, the battle is lost, once again, by irrelevant shots of Daniel.
In the film’s finale, Daniel’s new wife, protest group, and our tragic “hero” create a human barricade in the neighborhood bar for an Alamonian last stand against construction. The protestors finally leave and the bar is knocked down. Daniel’s family is always forced to leave, with ample funds, a few blocks away where the bar is being rebuilt. Battle for Brooklyn’s stories of lost family business and destroyed homes are thrown to the wayside and, like most of the film, we are left with Daniel’s face.
Daniel Engelke is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s Film & Video program. He resides in New York as a freelance writer and videographer. With expertise in French & British New Wave Cinema and Italian Neo-Realism, Daniel also works as a director and intern for Edward Bass Films.
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