Million Dollar Block


TYPE
: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production

LOGLINE

With the future of public housing at stake, Million Dollar Block is an evocative tableau of one community on the precipice of change.

SYNOPSIS

In 1980, representatives from the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) came together to plan for the future of public housing in Brownsville, Brooklyn. A future they saw “maybe” lasting 30 years. Million Dollar Block revisits this same community 40 years later. A community now known for having the highest concentration of public housing in the country, and some say the world. The population has continued to grow, but the buildings are in need of massive structural repairs, the blocks are some of the most surveilled and policed areas of the city, and Brownsville has both the highest poverty rate in Brooklyn and the lowest life expectancy in New York City. And as a result of federal disinvestment, the future of public housing is no longer guaranteed, and is uncertain at best.

Brownsville, however, is a land of wealth. Millions of dollars are being funneled in and out of Brownsville each year, yet little of that money is being invested in its current residents. Instead of it going toward much needed repairs or keeping the schools open, these millions are being invested in new private developments being built within the boundaries of existing public housing developments. Seventeen million dollars a year is also allocated to incarcerating residents of Brownsville, as the 1.1 square mile neighborhood contains seventeen “Million Dollar Blocks,” city blocks wherein the state spends $1,000,000 a year incarcerating residents from single blocks in the neighborhood. And with the generations of families and abundance of memories made in this neighborhood, the true wealth - the value of the community and residents - has been widely diminished and forgotten by outside forces.

Million Dollar Block puts Brownsville’s Van Dyke Houses - which is comprised of three “Million Dollar Blocks” - at the center of a compassionate and immersive community portrait. The film is anchored by three women - a relentless tenant association president, a newly elected Brownsville-born city councilwoman, and a long-time resident and grandmother - all advocating on behalf of themselves and their loved ones in the face of seemingly insurmountable institutional bureaucracy. Woven into these narratives are moments and stories of those who call Van Dyke Houses home juxtaposed against the ever-changing backdrop of the development as seen through a combination of verite footage, archival films, city council tapes, news audio collages, and YouTube videos. These elements will come together in service of crafting an evocative and intimate tableau, diving deep into the life of a neighborhood often described in terms of squalor and despair, to highlight the dignity and complexity of a dense group of residents who call these buildings home.

ARTISTIC STATEMENT

As the film was inspired by the “Million Dollar Block” maps – our artistic style will examine how the process of mapmaking inherently consists of a series of choices. Too often we look at maps as law - or scientific artifacts, but they are in fact comprised of deliberate decisions - what to leave in and out of the frame, much like a film. Many of these maps point at urban societal ills without indicating the source of these problems. Million Dollar Block seeks to subvert these authoritarian claims, showing the moments, experiences, and people who are excluded from these narratives.

After the first year and a half of shooting, we substantially changed our style and formal approach. Instead of shooting this as a handheld verite film, we pivoted to shoot static wide verite shots, as well as wide deep focus interviews with subjects speaking directly into the camera. This was an important shift in our ability to tell the story in a way that felt representative of Brownsville’s relative isolation to the rest of NYC as well as the many ways in which institutional factors trap public housing residents and propagate generational poverty. This uninterrupted style will allow scenes to play out within the frame, showing how even though there are these uncontrollable outside forces, life goes on.

KEY CREW

Diane Hodson - Director/Producer

Diane Hodson is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and educator. She spent nearly a decade teaching at a public high school in Brooklyn prior to earning her MFA in Documentary Filmmaking from Wake Forest University. Currently Diane teaches directing and producing at New York University. In addition, she produces serialized audio documentaries, most recently Running from COPS (2019), Missing Richard Simmons (2017) and Heaven's Gate (2017). Diane also works as a story and outreach consultant for independent filmmakers.

Jasmine Luoma - Director/Producer

Jasmine Luoma is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and photographer. Since receiving her MFA from Wake Forest University in Documentary Filmmaking in 2015, she has produced a number of short films, most notably unmappable, which screened at festivals worldwide including SXSW, and has garnered a number of awards. Previous to her move to New York, Jasmine traveled extensively to Central America to work on a social issue projects and produce content for NGOs. Now based in Brooklyn, she has worked in various producing roles at companies including Catalyst Films (SOLITARY, 2017), VOX Media, and Sunset Park Pictures. Jasmine is also a story consultant for independent filmmakers. 

Blair McClendon - Editor

Editor Blair McClendon, a former Karen Schmeer Diversity Fellow, was a Contributing Editor for the 2017 Sundance Documentary Edit and Story Labs and winner of the Sundance Short Film Jury Award for Editing with the film LAPS. He was also an editor on Mr. Soul! (Tribeca 2018), an additional editor on United Skates (Tribeca 2018) and a consulting editor on Whose Streets? (Sundance 2017). In addition, Blair has previously directed the short films Carceral Geographies and America for Americans, as he has an interest in artful stories that explore the intersection of incarceration, race, housing, and geography. 

Brett Story - Consulting Producer

Brett Story has completed research in Brownsville and written about “Million Dollar Blocks” in her academic work, as well as directed films (The Hottest August, 2019; The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, 2016) that similarly embrace a non-traditional storytelling approach that also tackles complicated social issues in an artful way. Her films have screened at True/False, Oberhausen, Hot Docs, the Viennale, and Dok Leipzig, among other international festivals. She was a 2016 Sundance Art of Nonfiction Fellow and is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow. 

Shantel Palacio - Co-Producer

Shantel Palacio is a Brownsville native and current resident. Also a PhD candidate in Education Policy, she has been collecting digital histories of Brownsville residents as part of her dissertation research exploring intersections between social capital in low income communities and educational policy. As a co-producer, Shantel is dedicated to helping tell an accurate and nuanced portrait of her community and the challenges it faces. Upon completion of the film, she will serve as our Impact Producer and will help organize and facilitate screenings in local public schools as well as at public housing community centers across the city. 

 

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ACCOLADES

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IFP Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2020
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IFP Documentary Lab Fellow 2019
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Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant Recipient 2019
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Big Sky Film Festival Pitch Participant 2019
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Made in New York Women's Film, TV, and Theatre Fund Recipient 2019
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Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts Grant Recipient 2018
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New York State Council on the Arts Grant Recipient 2018
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Brooklyn Film Festival Pitch Competition POV Award Winner 2018

 

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