Creators of Atlantic Yards film, Battle for Brooklyn, Talk Opening of Barclays Center, Jay-Z, Corruption, and More (Pt. 2)


Yesterday, we introduced you to Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley, co-directors of the film Battle for Brooklyn.

The film follows Brooklyn apartment owner Daniel Goldstein and his fight to save his home from real estate developer Bruce Ratner and other powerful New York City figures and officials seeking to displace residents from their homes in order to make way for Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development project.

As they prepare for Friday’s free screening of Battle for Brooklyn, around the corner from Jay-Z’s debut concert at Barclays, Michael and Suki talk more corruption and reveal whether they have any beef with the rapper. They also explain why their film is still relevant and why they don’t plan on making another film like this ever again.

Michael on hosting a free screening on the night of the debut concert event at the Barclays Center:

Michael: [The screening] starts at 8 p.m., and Jay-Z goes on at about 10 p.m., so they can stop by and see it. What would happen is, they would enjoy the movie, and they would enjoy Jay-Z. No one is saying that Jay-Z isn’t incredibly talented, and I think he’s pretty awesome at what he does. I don’t think there’s anyone better — well there’s a few people better. But, the point is, it’s not us versus them, it’s more of a having information versus not knowing.

There’s going to be a certain amount of protest, but certainly not aimed at the people going to see Jay-Z. It’s really aimed at getting the media to pay attention to the fact that every promise was broken, and that the system is rigged against the average person. That’s really what it’s about. I have no problem with anyone going to see Jay-Z. I have no problem with anyone going to see the Nets. I do want them to know what happened, so that when this kind of thing happens again, people will have a little bit more knowledge and a little bit more ability to make it better for the public.

Michael and Suki on the immediate value of Battle for Brooklyn:

Michael: For us, the message of the movie is “pay attention to what happened here because they’re about to do the same thing in Queens.” And we’re trying to get the people from Queens who want a real discussion about the major league soccer stadium to come and use the film as a way to get a better process over there.

We’re not going to make a movie about it, but we want to make [Battle for Brooklyn] available so we can get a better discussion going. We’ve done that a lot. We’ve bought it to California and all over the country. For instance, in Santa Clara, California, there’s a group fighting the San Francisco 49ers football stadium, and it’s the same process. Nobody in the community was involved. The community board [or the city council] did vote on it to approve it, but what they didn’t tell the people is that the people are on the hook for $1 billion in bonds. So if it doesn’t work out, and the team goes bankrupt, the city of Santa Clara will have to back-stop a billion dollars in bonds, which means that it will go bankrupt. That’s a lot of risk.

Suki: There is a playbook by which these things go, and developers and the government have fine-tuned how to get these things expedited and passed and accepted in the quickest way possible. So that when you do have a document like this film that shows how they do it and the ways in which you can fight back, it is a useful tool for others going through the same process.

Michael and Suki on some of the particularly frustrating abuses of power by some of those pushing for the arena:

Suki: I think the most shocking thing was the Community Benefits Agreement. Eight groups that were supposedly representing the community signed a benefit agreement with the developer, but six of them didn’t exist before the project was announced. And it turns out that three of them got their money entirely from the developer. So the questions were raised about who they represent and how can they possibly represent the community if they’re getting all their funding from the developer himself. Those kinds of tactics — where you make a sort of astro-turf group that claims to be grassroots, and claims to be of the community — are very shocking to us.

Michael: There was a really nice article a week go Saturday in The New York Times, an op-ed about how amazing it is that basketball is coming to Brooklyn. It was a very well-written article by a guy named Dan Klores. And in his PR line it says Dan Klores is a “Peabody Award-winning filmmaker.”

Dan Klores also happens to be the name of the publicity company that ran the huge lobbying and PR campaign for Forrest City Ratner for the entire length of the project. Now it is true that Dan Klores sold his interest in the company five years ago to his employees. But when this project was announced, and his campaign to create grassroots groups, and all that was started, that was Mr. Klores’s company. It’s particularly troubling to me because his company kept me out of every press conference. They would bodily remove me because they didn’t know what we would do with the footage. Now we went to [them] and said you really need to correct this. This is unconscionable. You basically allowed the PR rep for the company to write the PR-line and call himself a filmmaker — which gives it more credence.

. . . The New York Times allowed this former publicist for the project, whose company probably billed close to $10 million, to write an op-ed and call himself a filmmaker and make no mention of the fact that he profited handsomely from this project. I mean that’s just beyond corrupt. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It almost kills me, really.

What story would history tell about the Atlantic Yards project if Battle for Brooklyn had never been filmed?

Michael: It would be the one that says “Hey. It’s great. It’s here. There were naysayers, but there were naysayers when they built Rockefeller Center.”

All of the press was developer-driven for the most part. And for the most part, press people don’t have the resources or the time to really spend to get to know it. So covering it over eight years, we saw person after person show up and not know anything. They knew nothing about what this project was or anything. I would happen to guess that of the 400 press people who were at the Barclays Center opening, probably 10 percent had some idea of what happened. But the good thing was that since there was a counter-protest outside, people were forced to pay attention to it, and they did ask hard questions inside. They asked Marty Markowitz hard questions because [the issue] still exists, and they’re not going to go away. And there’s an insistence on people not forgetting because these other people want them to forget.

Michael on how Brooklyn residents will ultimately feel about the project:

Michael: I think there is going to be a lot of anger about the project because it’s going to take 30 or 40 years for them to actually finish building it. People have patience. But I think when a couple of ugly buildings with non-affordable housing go up in the next three years and that’s it, and, there’s still a parking lot, there’s going to be anger. . . . Part of the reason why the opposition still exists is because there are being efforts made to try and take the rest of the land back, and give it to a developer who will really build and pay attention to what the community wants.

Will you do something like this again?

Michael: Hell no! It almost killed us. We spent eight years on this project.

Suki: That shows why it was so difficult for the media to even begin to tell the story. It was very complex, complicated. It took eight years. It was just a difficult story that’s very hard to convey in an entertaining way. I felt like we did a pretty good job. Once again, we tried to more like Frank Capra than Michael Moore. In the sense that we wanted to tell a compelling story and a universal story rather than a political polemic.

Check out the trailer for Battle for Brooklyn!

Battle for Brooklyn is playing five times in New York this week, culminating in Friday’s free screening up the block from the Barclays Center.