Arts & Events

A Rare Film Event: Brooklyn Meets Oakland: On the Screen and in the Streets

By Gar Smith
Saturday April 13, 2013 - 10:15:00 AM
The Arena Footprint
The Arena Footprint
Shabnam Merchant and Daniel Goldstein
Shabnam Merchant and Daniel Goldstein

Why on Earth would a film from Brooklyn be crossing the country to screen in Oakland? Two good reasons: (1) Oakland used to be called Brooklyn (see below) and (2) this award-winning East-of-the Hudson documentary tells a story of Big Development versus Community Resistance than resonates with a local history of poor, established neighborhoods bulldozed into oblivion to make way for freeways, shopping malls and sport stadiums. 

First: Here's the skinny on Brooklyn-by-the-Bay. 

It was way back in 1856 that the East Bay settlements of San Antonio and Clinton first merged under the name "Brooklyn." The name was chosen in honor of the ship that delivered the first Mormon settlers to California. Beginning in 1870, the Central Pacific Railroad proudly offered a "San Francisco to Brooklyn" route. In 1872, the Bay Area's Brooklynites voted to approve annexation by Oakland. But old traditions die hard: it took nearly a decade before the railroad changed the name of the Brooklyn station to the "East Oakland" stop. 

Meanwhile, in the 21st century Manhattan borough of Brooklyn, old traditions also die hard. In some cases, they refuse to give up the ghost at all – at least, not without a fight. 

Michael Galinsky's and Suki Hawley's gritty doc, Battle of Brooklyn, follows the day-to-day struggle of Daniel Goldstein, a "reluctant activist" who is forced to defend his home, family and community from being eradicated to further the fortunes of the monied class. It's an all-too-familiar story (America's Cup anyone?). A cabal of movers-and-shakers hatch a plan to use the promise of a "major sporting event" to lay their cold, dead hands on a living landscape and turn neighborhoods upside down. In Brooklyn's case, the plan to build a "professional basketball stadium" served as a convenient pretext to replace vibrant neighborhoods with what has been called "the densest real estate development in American history." 

The so-called Atlantic Yards project involved seizing 22 acres of Brooklyn and replacing hundreds of homes with a mammoth sports stadium and 16 skyscrappers to bear the name Barclays Center. (Yes, as in Barclays bank.) Standing in the way is Goldstein, who stubbornly refuses to leave his apartment. For more than seven years, Goldstien rallies the community to resist the developers (and their powerful political enablers) in the courts, the streets, and the media. In the process, he ripped the veil off the corrupt use abuse of eminent domain that allows the One Percent to stage mass-removals of the poor majority. 




The New York Daily News' Michael O’Keeffe called the film "a riveting flick that shows how real estate developers use sports to seize other people’s property and enrich themselves with taxpayer subsidies; it is about how corporate interests enlist their allies in government to get what they want, even if that means lying to the public and screwing people who lack deep pockets and political connections." 

At the official groundbreaking in September 2010, Mayor Bloomberg boomed a prediction: "No one's going remember how long it took. They're only gonna look and see that it was done." The filmmakers' response: "Battle for Brooklyn will ensure that, despite the Mayor's wishful thinking, people won't forget." 

Battle for Brooklyn (an award-winning documentary that was the opening night film at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival) is set to screen at the San Francisco Film Festival in November but East Bay filmophiles can get an advanced look at a number of "insurgent" screenings that will be popping up around the Bay Area over the next few weeks. (See list below.) 

Asked about this rare string of "grassroots screenings," local activist/promoter Michael Orange told The Planet that his Oakland-based Broaklyn Film & Theater Co. is an extension of Top Ten Social, an organization "with a mission to present stories common to historically ethnically rich communities like Brooklyn and like Oakland. Ultimately, we present the question -- Do land rights exist?" 

Battle for Brooklyn is part of a larger series of related urban-angst docs. In addition to the New York prizewinner, Orange has added several related films to the package including Lemonade: Detroit, Flag Wars (a film on Columbus, Ohio) and The Fillmore.  

The Broaklyn Film & Theater Co. mission statement reads: "Pushing the cultural, artistic &intellectual envelopes of urban expression." In a pre-screening conversation with The Planet, Orange expanded on the group's purpose: "Broaklyn Film & Theater Co. presents stories relevant to historically ethnically rich communities like Brooklyn and Oakland, particularly amidst heightened social displacement via gentrification and redevelopment. We are impassioned by a belief that through story, we may transcend traditional barriers such as geography, race, gender, sexuality and socioeconomic class." 

Addressing specific issues in East Bay land use, Orange said: "It seems there's been little talk about the effects of the new residential developments on neighboring communities outside the immediate radius of downtown and the celebrated Uptown." But the impacts are already apparent. "Rents have skyrocketed on the opposite side of Lake Merritt by roughly $300 for starters, I'm told." 

Assessing Oakland's popular First Fridays, "another celebrated Oakland phenomenon," Orange wonders if the experiment's hyped success is broadly shared. "With no Economic Impact study completed to date," he points out, "who exactly is benefiting from the arts movement and where is the revenue going? As advocates for the inclusion of all communities in this economic development, we're saying there's nothing wrong with progress -- just as long as it doesn't impede anyone else's." 

BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN: Oakland Premiere 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 (7:00 p.m.) 

Saturday, April 20, 2013 (4:45 p.m.) 

Followed by guest speaker panel with Director Michael Galinsky. 

Location: The New Parkway Theater in Oakland 

474 24th Street, Oakland, CA 


Local Insurgent Screenings 

(For a complete listing of film times and locations, go to 


Saturday, April 13 


Otis Lounge SF 


Tuesday, April 16 

BkR Finale - 

tickets - 


Saturday, April 27 

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 

Member of the Future Soul Think Tank 

What will soul look like in the year 2038? 

Field of Inquiry - YBCA 


Friday, May 17 

Doin' it in the Park  

w/ Director Bobbito Garcia 

The New Parkway Theater 


Friday, May 17 

BIG FUN w/ Bobbito Garcia 

Era Art Bar & Lounge 



Broaklyn Film & Theater Co. 

601 William Street #401, Oakland CA 94612 USA 

(415) 342-0032