20 Oct Blah Blah Blog: Part Deux
The following is the second part of a discussion begun yesterday in regards to context and how information flows through the world in the age of blogs.
We have been shooting our film for 6 years now, focusing mainly on an individual who refused to sell his home to make way for the arena project because he felt that it was wrong for the government to use its power to seize his home in order to transfer it to another private owner. He was also deeply upset by the process by which the area would be developed, with virtually no local input. While the subject of the Atlantic Yards has been discussed a great deal in the local media, the context of these discussions has primarily been driven by press releases about the process of the project, rather than the larger context of the story. There has been almost no in-depth coverage in the main stream media. As such, from the very beginning of our project we found that when we talked to other people they had almost no understanding of the situation. We also found that there was a sense of inevitability, and as such, people almost seemed reticent to learn about it because they had a sense that it was all beyond their control. In fact, the vast majority of people in Brooklyn thought that it was simply an arena project and they were shocked when renderings were released nearly 2 years later showing massive skyscrapers.
When we started shooting the film, blogs were not a major part of our national culture like they are now. In some ways the development of these web communication/journalism tools have had a major impact on our story. The “legitimate” media has done an awful job of covering this complex story. In fact, we came to be interested because the NY Times story about the projects announcement read like a press release and it piqued our interest. We wanted to find out what was really going on. Since then, almost every story about the project has been led by the developer’s release of information. However, there are a couple of blogs that have had a major impact on the public and media understanding of the situation. Nolandgrab.org is basically a clearing house of every story that appears on the web, in print, and on TV. Including limited commentary that helps to contextualize the coverage from an anti-project point of view, this blog has done a powerful job of distilling the story as it moves through the media landscape. By compiling all of these stories in one place, it’s easy to see how the information moves through the factory, so to speak. The other major force is a website called Atlantic Yards Report. This blog was started by a journalist named Norman Oder, who lives near the project area. A little over a year after the project was announced, he too became increasingly frustrated by the NY Times coverage. He wrote a long critique of the Grey Lady’s coverage, and this morphed into one of the only sources of original reporting on the subject. As an editor at Library Journal, Mr. Oder has feet firmly planted in the august world of journalism. However, because his writing appeared on a blog, it took a very long time for the mainstream media to take his work seriously. Now anyone assigned to cover the story knows that they need to do some serious reading at AY Report so that they can catch up to speed. The stories that he covers are often not that “sexy,” but they deal with the real issues that are often hidden behind the massive PR machine that is pushing this story forward. In addition, the main opposition group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn has a site that also compiles news, breaks stories, and has detailed information about the project and the opposition.
From our perspective, Norman Oder is a “journalist,” and we are not. We don’t read through the documents, we actually never took a journalism class, and we don’t think about these stories from the perspective of a reporter. We’re more like William Hurt in Broadcast News than Albert Brooks or Holly Hunter.
On Wed Oct 14th, when 40 members of the community fighting the project gathered together to take a bus to Albany to witness a court hearing about the use of eminent domain for this project, it was important for our camera to be on the bus as we needed to capture the community as it gathered together. Today, I was thinking a lot about the idea of community in light of last week’s hearing. At this point, 6 years into our story, much of the physical community of the project site has been decimated. Buildings have been torn down and hundreds of residents have been moved away. Yet the crowd that gathered to ride that bus is probably more connected now than before this fight began. These people constitute a very real and physical community despite the fact that they don’t all live in apartments and houses next door to each other. They are connected by the powerful belief that the government, like the medical profession, should do no harm. They are bound by their opposition to this project- they see each other at functions related to that opposition and they connect daily through email, blogs, and phone.
As stated above, we don’t consider ourselves activist filmmakers, setting out to make a film that argues for a specific point of view. We absolutely did not start this film project with a preconceived notion of what we would capture. However, after only a few days of following characters, and interviewing the major supporters of the project, it became pretty clear to us that the film would follow those fighting the project rather than those working to make it happen.
We are filmmakers, following a character passionately fighting for what he believes. If the film didn’t reflect his point of view, then it would be a very bad film. However, this film will not always show the main character in a positive light. He is human, and like all humans, he makes mistakes. Like any good character in a movie, he will be seen under extreme pressure, and it’s seeing how people act under pressure that make movies great and heroes heroic.