Guest Post: Michael Galinsky on the Battle for Brooklyn and the Power of the Powerless

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Michael Galinsky is the Director, Producer, and Director of Photography of the feature-length documentary Battle for Brooklyn, the story of "reluctant activist" Daniel Goldstein, fighting to save his home and community from being demolished to make way for the New Jersey Nets basketball arena in Brooklyn, NY. With RUMUR partners and Battle for Brooklyn Director/Producer/Editor Suki Hawley and Producer David Beilinson, Galinsky tells a personal story so powerful, urgent, and undeniably current, that the film is now shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Battle for Brooklyn raised $25,000 on Kickstarter in the fall of 2009, and we liked the project so much we included an excerpt in our First Annual Kickstarter Film Festival that summer. Now Battle is back, this time raising funds for the Oscar campaign. On Thursday, January 5th, Battle for Brooklyn will screen at Kickstarter HQ in New York City's Lower East Side, and the first 30 backers to pledge a minimum of $15 to Battle Campaign will secure a seat. See below for details.

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The other night, after an inspiring screening of Occupy Wall Street short films, I had a long, wide-ranging discussion about creativity, politics, and OWS with Elisabeth Holm from Kickstarter. As we talked it became clear that the reasons Kickstarter has had explosive growth have to do with the very reasons that have led OWS to catch fire across the country. When Kickstarter started it filled a void in American culture, creating a space where creative people and projects could find support. It occupied that space and screamed, “We will be creative here!”

As artists in America, we can only find support for our work if it is “marketable” or if it serves the interest of others. People who create art that doesn’t fit in established molds are extremely marginalized in our culture, as are people who challenge prevailing paradigms. However, Occupy Wall Street has created a major shift in the national perspective on a wide range of issues. As a result, the idea of challenging norms has become acceptable again. 

arena footprint in Battle for Brooklyn
arena footprint in Battle for Brooklyn

Two years ago, after being rejected from countless grants, my partners and I went to Kickstarter to seek funds to continue our multi-year documentary project, Battle for Brooklyn. We knew that our film was important, but because it didn’t fit into the paradigms of what was expected in a documentary, and didn’t hew to well-worn paths, we were able to secure very little institutional support. However, in the space that Kickstarter had opened up, we raised $25,000 and found a way to continue our work. We eventually finished Battle for Brooklyn and launched it to positive reviews and strong audience reaction.

Battle for Brooklyn has themes that resonate with those of OWS, and interest in it is rising exponentially as people make the connection. The first time I went down to Zuccotti Park, I was struck by the fact that it felt more like a creative space than a political one. I found myself surrounded by people playing jazz, ragtime, and salsa music. There were people making posters and people having heated discussions. It seemed a lot less like a protest than a celebration of the creative spirit. At the same time, the message that I heard was very clear. People were fed up with the cozy relationship between business and government. They felt shut out of the process, and they felt their voices weren’t being heard.

John Turturro, Gilly Youner, Councilmember Letitia James, Daniel Goldstein with DDDB
John Turturro, Gilly Youner, Councilmember Letitia James, Daniel Goldstein with DDDB

Our film is about a community that will be bulldozed if a developer gets control of their homes and businesses.  Throughout the movie we see those people with the most at stake shut out of the process. With no PR or advertising budget they had to compete against deep-pocketed developers and government officials to get their message heard. Like the folks at OWS they used their creative spirit to fight against those in power. However, it was a tough fight because the whole media system was rigged against them.  

While the shift in our collective consciousness isn’t as swift or direct as it was after 9/11, I believe it is equally as profound. In this new world, dissent has value, and the idea of questioning authority doesn’t lead to instant marginalization. We feel this perspective shift profoundly when showing Battle for Brooklyn in the wake of OWS. While the film played well before September, people respond more powerfully to it as each week passes. The recent screenings have led to long discussions about the connection between our film and OWS. Instead of a shock and awe kind of change I am seeing increasing willingness to embrace and accept complexity.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB)'s Daniel Goldstein
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB)'s Daniel Goldstein

When our film began eight years ago the main character, Daniel Goldstien, lived in an apartment that was at center court of the proposed basketball arena. The idea that the government could take his home and hand it to a private developer was unfathomable to him. He vowed to fight. By raising questions about the project and leading the opposition to it, he was branded by the government and the developer as a “holdout” or “obstructionist” and was viewed suspiciously by the media. Vaclav Havel died this week, and a friend posted this quote from Havel’s 1978 essay, The Power of the Powerless: 

You do not become a dissident just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.

Over the last few years many people lost their hope and decided to make the change that they believed in. For years we struggled to follow the traditional grant route to fund our films. Then we found Kickstarter. Daniel Goldstein was branded as a selfish malcontent, and now he’s starting to be seen as a hero blowing the whistle on a deeply flawed system. In the space that Kickstarter and OWS created, creative opportunity takes place.

On Thursday, January 5th, Battle for Brooklyn will screen at Kickstarter HQ, and a new reward has just been added to the campaign: a minimum pledge of $15 secures a seat at the screening, and adding $10 allows you to pick up your poster at the event. There are 30 seats available. Click here to get a spot.

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      polo2014 (deleted) on March 4, 2014

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      zyt123 (deleted) on July 11, 2015

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      Namaku Keren on October 20, 2015

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      Doa Ibu Tersayang on October 23, 2015

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