NAS Interview: “Battle for Brooklyn” Filmmaker

In anticipation of Wednesday’s Court of Appeals hearing in Albany, where opponents of the Atlantic Yards development will argue about the proposed use of eminent domain for the building of the Nets new home in Brooklyn, NetsAreScorching has spoken to filmmaker Michael Galinsky, who is working on a documentary about the Atlantic Yards process entitled “Battle for Brooklyn.”

Galinksky, who resides in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, has been working on the film for nearly six years now, amassing more than 300 hours of footage. One of the focal points of his film is Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, whose Pacific Street apartment sits where the Nets’ Barclays Arena would be built.

We’ve included the “Battle for Brooklyn” trailer for your viewing pleasure. For more information about Galinsky’s work, please visit his site.

NAS: Given that the eminent domain hearing in Albany is considered by some to be a last legal stand for opponents to the Atlantic Yards development, do you plan to capture any footage for your film that day? If so, what’s your planned filming approach for the day?

Michael Galinksy: We will certainly be shooting on the day of the hearing.  While it’s the last stand for the opponents to fight the eminent domain issue, I think that there are several other law suits in the works regarding the process.

Our film is a character-driven, verite documentary that mostly follows a few of the people fighting the project, so we’ll want to get their take on the situation. The idea of a verite documentary film gets confusing because most people are used to Michael Moore or old school PBS docs.  We aren’t journalists and we’re not activists either. The idea of this film isn’t to get to the bottom of everything that’s happened along the way but instead to follow characters as they deal with some of the situations that they face. Not even Norman Oder could put together a book that covers everything and is still readable. As such, we have to be very selective in what scenes to focus on.  So the short answer is: yes we’ll be shooting, but who knows what will end up in the film. With over 350 hours of footage shot, only about 0.5% of what we shot has any chance of making it in to a 90 minute film.

NAS: Does the announcement that Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is looking to take ownership of the Nets change the narrative of your film at all? What about the recent Barclays Arena renderings?

Michael Galinksy: These announcements have very little narrative force as far as the story is concerned.  It’s very difficult to figure out how to fit all of the crazy events that have transpired over 6 years into a 90 minute film.  If the investment does actually keep things going then it will probably go in but like everything else- the PR story is pretty straight forward – billionaire buys team!!!- but the reality is so complex that it’s really hard to figure out how to get into it.

NAS: You have said in previous interviews that you’re trying to keep this film unbiased. Have you reached out to the Nets front office at all while making this documentary and how cooperative have they been?

Michael Galinksy: Honestly, from our perspective, this isn’t a story about basketball. I think it was clear from the beginning that the basketball team was only interesting to the developer as a way to do a big real estate deal.  The real story is that big real estate deal. As such, basketball doesn’t have a lot to do with our film. At the same time, we did want the perspective of the developer, and Bruce Bender was kind enough to sit down with us at the beginning of our process and talk about their plans. I grew up going to see UNC play every home game including all 4 seasons of Jordan when I was in jr. high school. I love basketball, and like our main character, I think it would be great to have a Brooklyn team. I was excited when I read the first reports. However, the process of making this film has made me question the costs associated with it at this location.

NAS: There seems to be an unofficial deadline of December 31 for ground to be broken if this development is going to be built. Do you get the sense that your film is headed towards a resolution based on these facts?

Michael Galinksy: I wish it were so.  It was my impression that ground had to be broken before the 31st in order for the developer to take advantage of the tax free bonds.  However, I have been told that the developer simply needs to sell the bonds before then.  So it may not be the end after all.

NAS: Describe a few things that have surprised you in the making of this film. Some things you learned about the project, or the people involved that you didn’t expect.

Michael Galinksy: Honestly, working on this project has had an enormous impact on me and my view of the world. I would have to say that I considered myself pretty liberal when I started shooting, but my faith in government has been severely shaken by the process of working on this film.

I started this project because I read the initial article in the New York Times and I was struck by the fact that it sounded like a press release. As such, I was curious about what was really going on. I don’t live right by the footprint, but my daughter was going to daycare two blocks away so I was very familiar with the area.

A few years before the project was announced, my wife and I bought a beat up house and spent the next few years learning how to fix it up. When you go from being a renter to a home-owner you take a little bit more interest in your community because you become invested in it. After about 3 years we had a baby.  With a baby you really start to meet the people around you- and you rely on them for information about day care, etc – You really start to build roots.  Still, I didn’t even know what a community board was until I started to shoot.

As I followed the story, I saw how the government and the community interacted and it wasn’t pretty. On a basic local level, there was some responsiveness to what the community wanted; but when the  politicians who made the decisions had less connection with the community, they could take the community for granted more easily.

With a project of this size, the impacts on the surrounding communities promises to be profound, yet nobody who was affected by the project was given any real opportunity to have their opinions taken into consideration.