Q&A With Isabel Hill, “Brooklyn Matters” Filmmaker

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    On Thursday Cobble Hill Cinemas will host a free screening of “Brooklyn Matters,” the documentary about Atlantic Yards. The film, which examines how Atlantic Yards came about and what the project’s possible ramifications are, came out early last year and has been shown in a number of venues, including colleges and universities like Pratt and NYU. Isabel Hill, the director and producer of “Brooklyn Matters,” talked to us about the movie’s relevance now that Atlantic Yards is likely to be stalled and how audiences have reacted to her work. The main thrust of Hill’s documentary is that Atlantic Yards has ignored decades-old urban planning wisdom and techniques. Hill worked as a planner for many years before making the film.

    Now that you’ve been showing the documentary for a while, have you noticed a difference in audience reaction over time?
    Hill:Yes, frankly, there does seem to be more outrage over the specific elements of this project. When I first started showing the film, I think many people were just surprised when they discovered the overwhelming scale of the many proposed skyscrapers. Most people initially understood the project to consist of a sports arena and a vague outline of other development. When they saw the monumental scale of the proposed buildings, most first-time viewers were incredulous. Also, when I first began showing the film, viewers were shocked at the ways this project circumvented public process and how project advocates manipulated public perception. Now, I think as people know more about Atlantic Yards, they are incensed when they see the film and more fully understand the drastic and long-lasting impacts of this proposal—a proposal we taxpayers are subsidizing. What I’ve seen is that the film consistently is a revelation to viewers whether they know nothing, little, or a lot about the project.

    Is the documentary still as relevant now that Atlantic Yards faces delays?
    Hill:“Brooklyn Matters” is even more relevant and important now than it was the day it was released. Markets have slowed the rate of progress on Atlantic Yards and allowed more and more people to study the project more closely. It is especially important that the new Paterson administration see the film during this time. In the past, many interested community leaders and residents felt side-lined by the fact that the real estate market was traveling so fast and furious. Atlantic Yards was marketed as a done deal and many believed it. Now that more and more people realize that the project is not a done deal, it is even more important to act. We can’t just sit back and see what happens here. This is an opportunity for our elected officials and citizens to rethink what should happen on this important public site—the Vanderbilt rail yards. There must be an outcry against Atlantic Yards, and the film is critical to reaching more and more people with this truth.

    Did the finished movie differ much from the movie you set out to make?
    Hill: Documentary filmmaking is a process. When you set out to make a documentary, you don’t know exactly where this great adventure will take you so there were things that evolved and changed over the course of making the film. But my frame of reference was always the same. I have worked as an urban planner in Brooklyn for over twenty years and it is through the lens of a planner that I viewed the Atlantic Yards project.

    Images from Brooklyn Matters

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