In Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore draws a correlation between more guns and less safety in U.S. society. He manages this by a stunty kind of litmus test, walking down some quiet tree-lined Toronto streets and checking to see if people have their front doors locked. But there are easier, more powerful ways to make the same point that gun controls in the U.S. are slack.
Klaartje Quirijns, for one, doesn’t subscribe to guerilla-style documentary formats. As a result, The Brooklyn Connection: How to Build a Guerrilla Army tells the chilling story of a former Kosovo native living in Brooklyn named Florin Krasniqi. While he looks like he went to the Simon Cowell Hair Club for Men, Krasniqi seems to be an astute businessman operating a successful roofing company, living in the city, and having friends and family over for summer barbecues. Krasniqi has assisted in their fight against the Serb-dominated Yugoslavian army, raising and channeling some $30 million Yankee greenbacks to support the cause. And he’s the brains behind smuggling guns purchased in the U.S. overseas to assist in the fight, once sending a cargo plane with some 25 tons of equipment on board.
As Krasniqi states early on, “I am not an analyst or a politician, or any sort of expert. But I am prepared to help in any way.” He’s inspired less by a deep-seated hatred for the enemy than a desire for vengeance for the death of his cousin Adrian, killed in the fighting. Quirijns’ film includes a scene where Krasniqi watches a video of the funeral, attended by mournful family members, his upper lip quivering. Such images drive home his personal rationale, whether you see him as “freedom fighter” or “terrorist.”
Quirijns reports she was drawn to Krasniqi’s story by war correspondent Stacy Sullivan, who was working on a book about the roofer, Be Not Afraid, For You Have Sons in America (see filmmaker interview). The documentary doesn’t shy away from the disturbing dichotomies in Krasniqi’s life. In one scene, he appears on a roofing job atop some downtown building. As hot tar is poured and holes are sealed, Krasniqi reveals that 90 percent of his employees are from Albania, calling over some who have fought and have the scars and prosthetics as proof. Later, an evening of partying and dancing leads to the roofer dragging a large weapon behind him in the dead of night.
Though Quirijns rarely appears in the documentary, when she does, her questions to her subject make for some riveting exchanges. Challenging Krasniqi on whether his role as an arms supplier results in the deaths of innocents, he dismisses her query: “No innocent Serbs were harmed by our guns,” he says as he turns over the drumsticks on the barbecue. On a flight overseas with guns and ammunition on board, she revisits the idea, asking him if he’s ever killed anyone. Krasniqi says no, but his demeanor suggests otherwise.
Attempting to purchase a large weapon to use in the struggle back in Kosova, Krasniqi enters a small gun shop in Pennsylvania, looking for a large weapon for an “elephant hunt.” The owner senses there is little credibility to the story for purchasing such a gun, but says nothing. “We don’t have a lot of elephant hunters come by,” he offers, by way of breaking the ice, but Krasniqi maintains his story; when he leaves with the gun in hand, he notes that he could destroy elephants as well as deer with such arms.
This surreal scene, which seems like something Christopher Guest might have filmed, is bolstered with other, less clearly contextualized moments, as when Krasniqi shows up at various fundraisers, rubbing shoulders with men like Wesley Clark and former United Nations Envoy to the Balkans Richard Holbrooke. He also makes $1,000 donations to John Kerry and others.
Perhaps the most significant unanswered question is, why would anyone running a covert militaristic operation agree to be filmed? Some of the bonus footage addresses that question, as Krasniqi wonders about his participation. In an interview, the director herself tries to explain how Krasniqi might rationalize agreeing to the project, and details the difficult logistics of making the film.