Fighting Words

I review two new independent documentaries today at Thompson on Hollywood, excerpted here:

Following community members who stand up against the flashy new development, Battle for Brooklyn emerges as a truly great work of advocacy journalism. It amasses maps, interviews, archival footage, voiceovers, renderings, and still photographs to expose an issue and bring it forcefully to life.

“I’m not much of a patriot, but it’s un-American,” says face of the opposition Daniel Goldstein (pictured above), who lives in the area to be razed, about the way in which corporate greed has superseded individual rights. But then he corrects himself: “No, maybe it is American. What [Ratner’s] doing, it seems to be the American way.” And for all the catcalling and flaring tempers, the claims and counterclaims of flyers, conferences, church meetings, and press releases, the film captures a valiant effort to take back “the American way” and make it what it should be. Whatever side you’re on, whatever the outcome when the project is finally complete, it’s inspiring to see Americans put a lie to the suggestion that they are apathetic, self-obsessed, greedy, fat, and stupid. Watching Battle for Brooklyn, my only wish was that I could say the same thing about the politicians who run the place.

At the far end of cracked roads and heat haze, parched earth and low-slung vegetation, Darwin is a paradox — a town whose inhabitants hide from the past (deaths, disagreements, divorces, drugs) as though it were a monster, and in which the past is omnipresent. Brandestini’s film is not unsympathetic, but for that its candor is all the more chilling. The wind chimes tinkle incessantly, as though haunted, and the unending horizon begins to feel like a trap. “That’s one thing we don’t talk about too much,” Monty tells us, referring to the reasons people stay in Darwin: we like our secrets around here, and don’t you forget it.

It would be easy to say that Darwin doesn’t amount to much — it’s not a narrative so much as a group portrait. Some formal touches, like an awkward coupling of slow motion and voiceover, are awful enough to wake you from reverie. But generally the style of the film serves the place well. In Darwin, the same stories are told, the same grudges held, by the same people who’ve been telling and holding them all along. This is a town, still, of gunslingers and water board bickerers, of hippies, and artists, drifters and drinkers, grandstanders, prophets, addicts. Monty’s shirt is on to something: Darwin really is a Wild West, always about to become a ghost town. From what I could tell watching Darwin, it already is. 

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