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by Cynthia Fuchs

13 Dec 2011


When Bruce Ratner announced the Atlantic Yards development project in Brooklyn in 2003, he brought along noteworthy supporters, from architect Frank Gehry to New Jersey Nets minority owner Jay-Z to Mayor Mike Bloomberg. They all touted the arena as a way to create jobs, to improve the local economy, to bring new life. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, as documented in Battle for Brooklyn.

Troubles began when some residents of “the footprint” resisted being moved. Their resistance led to the corporation bringing in the state government, who cited “eminent domain” as a rubric for claiming the land, that is, the expropriation of private property for the public good. And oh yes, primary “public” beneficiary was to be Forest City Ratner Companies. Local resistance galvanized ROUND EXACTLY THAT APPARENT OVERSIGHT. Screening on 13 December as part of Stranger Than Fiction’s Pre-Winter Season Special—and followed by a Q&A with directors Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky—the film follows one resident in particular, Daniel Goldstein, a graphic designer who can’t imagine how his life will be changed by his commitment to the project. Goldstein and other residents resent the implication that they matter so little as to be considered “practically from scratch.” To be sure, not all residents feel this way: some believe the promises made by Ratner, Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz, Mayor Bloomberg, and Senator Chuck Schumer, 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!”) As the Atlantic Yards project divides the community, it inspires a range of responses, from placards in residential and commercial windows and street protests to local organizing and full-on media campaigns.

See PopMattersreview.

by Cynthia Fuchs

5 Dec 2011


“The psychology of Ghanians, when it comes to governance or politics generally, has been influenced by our history,” notes Baffour Agyeman-Duah, an expert on governance.” While the aim is to construct “a stable democratic government, guided by the principles of good governance,” the route has been uneven. As he finishes speaking, scene cuts from his face to a close-up of a butcher at work: whomp goes his cleaver, splitting red meat. It’s a striking early image in Jarreth and Kenneth Merz’s An African Election, suggesting the high stakes during Ghana’s 2008 presidential elections. Currently at the Quad Cinema, the documentary considers that election (when Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling New Patriotic Party ran against John Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress), history (the legacy of colonial rule, the decades of increasing corruption), and also points toward a kind of future, that is, the ways that elections have become—more and more, there and elsewhere (say, the US), contests over who can be loudest or least honest while appealing to broad bases. A smart, lively film—beautifully enhanced by a terrific percussive soundtrack—An African Election reveals how entrenched layers of trouble remain, despite and because of the cheering throngs, the advances in media technologies, the hopes for change. As journalist Kwesi Pratt puts it, “None of the parties is offering a paradigm shift. All of the parties will be doing the same thing, but some promise to do it better than the others.” How familiar does that sound? 

by Cynthia Fuchs

5 Dec 2011


“For most children,” begins Strangers No More, “going to school is as simple as going around the block.” But for the students in the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, the journey has been long and continues to be difficult. Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon’s documentary, winner of last year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Short, premieres 5 December on HBO, tracks the experiences of several students, as examples of the many (from 48 countries) who have survived loss and trauma. Many are orphans, others have parents who are refugees, all are doing their best to remember their pasts and also to move on. According to principal Karen Tal, means to “open our arms to every student. Almost every student is running away from something.” Their relatives have been running too: Johannes’ father, from Sudan, confesses that his son was never able to go to school before; the boy’s new teacher observes, “You see the eyes of the father, you see that he is really tired from running from one place to another.”

by Cynthia Fuchs

15 Nov 2011


“I’m not scared to face my creator,” says Paco Larrañaga. “I have a big space there, I’m sure.” Here on earth, though, he’s less certain. Interviewed in the New Bilibid Prison in the Philippines, Larrañaga wears an orange jumpsuit and peers awkwardly into the video camera’s wide lens. “It’s just so unfair, getting that lethal injection without me giving a fight,” he says. “I was not given a fair fight. I was not given a chance to defend myself.” Give Up Tomorrow—which screens 15 November at Stranger Than Fiction, followed by a Q&A with director Michael Collins and producer Marty Syjuco—begins partway through Larrañaga’s ordeal, then cuts back in time, as the filmmakers interview not only him and his family members, but also police officers and other officials who brought the case. When plainclothes policemen came to his door at school, he was afraid they were criminals come to kidnap him, his sister Mimi remembers: the scene is illustrated by a set of ominous animated silhouettes, setting up the surreal events to follow.

by Cynthia Fuchs

15 Nov 2011


When Shell Oil decided to run a pipeline through Rossport, in northwest County Mayo, Ireland, the company did its best to convince residents the project would be in their interest. The company tried the usual sorts of tactics, cajoling, bribing, pitting neighbor against neighbor, but the community—even when they argued with one another—came to understand themselves as a force to be reckoned with, one the American corporation could not take for granted. The process of such self-understanding is at once gradual and vivid, tracked in Rísteard Ó Domhnaill’s remarkable documentary, The Pipe. Filmed over four years and available from FilmBuff beginning 15 November, the film follows the conflict and reveals the complex reactions of and interactions within the community. One longtime resident, Monica Müller, describes the encounter with Shell this way: “Rude people that don’t care tell you go away, go out… They want to build a pipeline to get from A to B.” As she sees it, “The landscape doesn’t mean anything to them. Otherwise, they would find a route that would make more sense.”

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