Elevate Difference

A Hole In A Fence

For most films under an hour long, the first ten minutes are critical. In this short window, the story’s framework is established, point of view is explained, and the viewer basically gets to decide if they’re half as committed to following the plot as the film’s director was to sharing his or her vision. 

During the first few minutes in A Hole In A Fence, I had no idea what I was watching. Several seemingly unrelated characters were introduced lacking title or affiliation, and some B roll and a clumsy voice-over made me question when the actual narrative would begin. I felt as if I was watching a film school class project, and as a somewhat recent graduate of such a program, I grimaced, long ago ready to put such screenings behind me. Thankfully, I stayed on my sofa, watching closely, and ended up being drawn into a captivating tale of a neglected neighborhood and a big box home goods supplier.

Despite its slow, awkward start, A Hole In A Fence quickly becomes an engaging story of gentrification, homelessness, a community split by poverty, and the loss of a historic Brooklyn waterfront area to a new Ikea and its behemoth parking lot. Having lived in Boston when a similar situation arose—in Beantown’s case, a waterfront Ikea likely to pollute the river it bordered, creating traffic jams, and also forcing out residents and a community arcade out of the low-income neighborhood—Red Hook’s dilemma did not surprise me, despite the sadness it caused.

Red Hook, like any other neighborhood split down the middle by a population of artists and folks in public housing, has as many problems as community-based solutions. While the neighborhood has homeless squatters, wild dogs, and illegal sex work, it also contains historic graffiti, a rare public graving dock, and a youth gardening project and farmer’s market. Throughout the film, you meet several groups campaigning for various neighborhood causes, usually related to sustainable resources or organizations that work with youth. Worried that their efforts will be squashed or at least rendered obsolete when the Swedes roll in, they spoke candidly about their work and their fears for their community’s future.

While mostly thorough in their research, the film’s team neglected one critical element of their story. They did not speak to any city or community officials in support of Ikea, nor did they speak to Ikea representatives. Whether or not the crew attempted such an interview is not mentioned. It is clear the filmmaker’s intention is to tell the story of a neighborhood being torn apart by commerce, but to not offer even a token appearance to the government or retailer makes the arguments against commercialism appear unbalanced and somewhat unfounded. When the question of partnering with Ikea is posed to members of community organizations, they seem open to the idea but lack factual information to support such a proposal.

Anyone familiar with the current state of Red Hook will know in addition to the waterfront Ikea’s arrival last June, MTV’s Real World, now in their seventeenth season, have set up shop in the borough as well. Nothing says gentrification like camera crews and Scandinavian furniture imports.

While Red Hook residents lost their battle, A Hole In A Fence is nevertheless an engaging forty-five minutes, an important historical document and a learning tool for anyone who cares about issues concerning urban planning, gentrification, the rapidly decreasingly public waterfront, architecture, green space, community revival and survival, and “development at the cost of identity.”

Written by: Brittany Shoot, April 23rd 2009

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