“Eminent domain,” you’re reminded at the start of Battle for Brooklyn, is “the right of the government to take private property.” Usually, this measure is taken with an eye toward a “public good,” however that may be defined. In the case presented in Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley’s terrific documentary, the term appears to be especially vexed, as a private corporation makes a claim for public land. The film follows the controversy and legal ambiguities regarding the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, that is, that is, Bruce Ratner’s plan to build an arena for the (currently New Jersey) Nets and develop the surrounding property. While some residents of the neighborhood selected for the project object to the idea, others believe the promises made by Ratner, Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz, Mayor Bloomberg, and Senator Chuck Schumer, namely, promises that the development will bring employment opportunities to Brooklyn and improve material and economic conditions going forward. (Senator Schumer’s misspeaking during a press conference may or may not be telling: “Basketball is great, but you know what enervates me about this? 10,000 jobs!”)
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“I had experiences on the stage that I didn’t think were possible and then a strange thing happened. On the stage, I was complete and perfect, lacking no essential characteristic, nothing. The curtain came down and, ‘Who am I? Who am I?’” As Beah Richards remembers acting, she is, of course, acting again. And in her performance here, as elsewhere, she is complete and perfect, powerful, moving, and fierce. “Here” is Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, a film by LisaGay Hamilton, who recorded the actor, poet, and playwright during the last year of her life. Richards died in 2000, of emphysema, having moved from California back to her childhood home in Vicksburg, Mississippi—where she was cremated and “spread over the Confederate graveyard,” according to her wishes, so that she might “take that struggle with her into eternity.”
“He was doing his job and she was the loyal wife,” says Carl Colby. “My mother believed in what he was doing, but it had to be moral, it had to be right.” Best remembered as the director of the CIA from 1973 to ‘76, William Colby emerges in his son’s carefully researched film, The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father CIA Spymaster William Colby, as a puzzle. “He was tougher, smarter, smoother, and could be crueler than anybody I ever knew,” narrates Carl over family photos, his dad looking awkward in camping gear. The film—screening at Stranger Than Fiction on 13 March, followed by a Q&A with Carl Colby—sets the son’s contemplations alongside interviews with his father’s colleagues and footage of the events Colby tried to control: the coup that killed Nhu and Diệm Ngô, the Phoenix Program in Vietnam (an aborted experiment that spawned subsequent counterinsurgency strategies), the CIA’s assassinations. The film presents Colby as a product of his time, a soldier who parachuted from planes, who followed orders, who believed America’s interventions and his own “confessional” testimony before the Church Committee might “do good.”
Shukree Hassan Tilghman wants to end Black History Month. He’s got his reasons, and most of them are familiar: for one thing, by “relegating” black history to one short month each year, it keeps American histories separate and unequal. For another, it generates a Black History commercial products industry that demeans the very history it means to celebrate. To track his quest, he’s made a film, More Than a Month. And now that film is screening on the last leap-yeared day of 2012’s Black History Month as part of
Maysles Cinema’s Doc Watchers series, followed by a Q&A with Tilghman and Anthony Riddle, Managing Director of the Maysles Institute and descendant of Dr. Carter Woodson, creator of Negro History Week. The film raises serious questions while offering a bit of antic framing, interviewing people with investments in history, then pondering how those investments have come to be. As the film seeks value in Black History Month, to understand the purposes it serves, it also finds value in ongoing debates over it.
See PopMatters’ review.
“The original title was ‘The Nigger Who Sat by the Door,’” remembers Sam Greenlee. “But when Dick Gregory brought out this book called Nigger, I figured he had taken the sting out of it.” And so the writer of The Spook Who Sat by the Door decided on a “much more subtle” title, as “spooks” refer to blacks, CIA agents, and “the armed revolution by black people [that] haunts white America, and has for centuries.” Greenlee’s memories are among the most vivid in Christine Acham and Clifford Ward’s documentary, Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door, which premieres on the Documentary Channel on 28 February. As he and other participants—including actors J.A. Preston and David Lemieux, as well as editor Michael Kahn and Berlie Dixon, widow of director Ivan Dixon—it becomes clear not only how difficult it was to make the movie, but also how clever and committed they were to getting it made.