Striking a fine balance between personal journal and political expose, Kelly Anderson’s docu examines the unnatural causes of changes wrought in Brooklyn neighborhoods due to gentrification. Unsurprisingly, the film, like 2011’s “Battle for Brooklyn,” presents yet another example of how large corporations, working in collusion with city government, can legally destroy communities, riding roughshod over the rights of the middle- and lower-class inhabitants they dispossess. Filled with colorful, articulate neighborhood champions, this absorbing pic eschews militant outrage for a quietly devastating look at social commodification. Bowing Jan. 4 in Gotham, “My Brooklyn” should rock on cable.
Anderson begins her film by enumerating the various sections of Brooklyn in which she lived, attracted to their low rents and diverse communities, only to discover that, as a young, white, middle-class woman, she was part of the gentrifying wave that soon chased away the very people she had sought to join and sent property values soaring, chasing her out as well.
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Anderson manages to personalize her docu just enough to place herself in the socioeconomic picture and show where she’s coming from, never thrusting herself as a subject into the narrative, but lending the docu an engagingly informal note. Her moves from Park Slope to Boerum Hill to Fort Greene, before these locales became “fashionable brands,” focus almost exclusively on shots of ethnically mixed neighbors and neighborhoods. She seems to grudgingly accept gentrification as an unfortunate, unscripted change.
But when the city unveils a plan to raze the colorful, cheap Fulton Mall (the third most successful shopping area in the entire city and a meeting place for blacks and Latinos from all boroughs) in favor of luxury housing towers, upscale office buildings and expensive franchise shops, Anderson resolves to find out, in her words, what Brooklyn is becoming and who is calling the shots.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in an excerpted TV appearance, makes no attempt to disguise the language that turns viable community space with affordable shopping into an outright commodity: “New York is in a fierce competitive worldwide competition. We must offer the best product and sell it forcefully.” In this global marketplace, people are perceived as mere consumers, the more affluent the better. Residents of loftier Brooklyn neighborhoods show disdain or condescension when speaking of the Fulton Mall, while longtime habitues are appalled by this wholesale eradication of their gathering place.
A dissident city council member speaks of the powerlessness of ordinary people to sway the will of real-estate giants in bed with politicos. Photog Jamel Shabazz (himself the subject of Charlie Ahearn’s recent docu) tells of the milieu where he grew up, his pictures offering wondrous snapshots of communal Brooklyn life. Anderson interviews social workers and shopkeepers in downtown Brooklyn, forced to relocate decades-old, one-of-a-kind businesses without compensation. A bookstore owner mourns the loss of a repository of African-American history, while record stores fold in an area where hip-hop first famously flourished.