An eagerly awaited documentary about the grassroots opposition to the Atlantic Yards development will make its Brooklyn debut on Wednesday at the Belarusian Church on Atlantic Avenue. To see if it’s worth our readers’ time, we asked our film critic, Baker Hollingsworth, for his review:
To call Isabel Hill’s “Brooklyn Matters” a documentary would be akin to calling Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9-11” fair and balanced.
Like Moore’s film, “Brooklyn Matters” is a clever invective that will preach to the converted — the Atlantic Yards opponents who are its likely audience — a sermon they already believe: Atlantic Yards is bad.
But once any expectation of objectivity is set aside, the film delivers an engaging head-butt to developer Bruce Ratner, the Empire State Development Corporation, Mayor Bloomberg and former Gov. Pataki.
The film outlines Ratner’s plans to build 16 skyscrapers and a sports arena on a supposedly blighted portion of Prospect Heights, where brownstones routinely sell for $1 million.
Wisely, Hill doesn’t give much screen time to the city- and state-subsidized project’s better-known, but over-exposed, opponents, like Develop Don’t Destroy spokesman Daniel Goldstein and Norman Oder of the Atlantic Yards Report blog.
Instead, wiser talking heads, like the Municipal Art Society’s Kent Barwick and Pratt Institute’s Ron Shiffman, do most of the talking.
But it’s Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights) who emerges as docu-drama’s true heroine.
James plays the role of unfairly wronged protagonist with grace, issuing perfect sound-bite after perfect sound-bite, her cadence well-timed and her outrage palpable. She also gets the film’s last words: “It’s not a done deal. It’s not over.”
Needless to say, neither Ratner nor any of his staff makes an appearance, though signatories to the Community Benefits Agreement, like ACORN’s Bertha Lewis and BUILD’s Marie Louis, do get a tiny bit of screen time. But only a tiny bit.
This is not Hill’s first film. The former city planner and preservationist’s 1993 movie, “Made in Brooklyn,” won the Municipal Art Society’s coveted Elliot Willensky Award. It later aired on public television.