Million Dollar Block


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

LOGLINE

A complex portrait of a neighborhood and its inhabitants, Million Dollar Block gives us a window into one public housing development on the precipice of change. The film’s point of departure is a 1980s training video for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) where employees promise decent and affordable housing for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. These smiling actors are juxtaposed with current public housing residents and elected officials in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the neighborhood with the highest concentration of public housing in the country. Tensions rise as a new building is erected within the development, the NYPD Housing Police’s surveillance turns lethal, and NYCHA continues to ignore the conditions of its residents. Million Dollar Block questions what the future of public housing looks like from the vantage point of those most effected by registering the anxieties, convictions, and survival strategies that preoccupy ordinary lives.

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 nonfiction storyteller working in audio, television, and film. Her audio documentaries include the duPont-Columbia winner The Line (2021), Peabody-nominated Running from COPS (2019), and chart-topping Missing Richard Simmons (2017) and Heaven's Gate (2017). Her documentary films have screened at festivals across the globe, including SXSW, Dokufest, and Hamptons International, and she has produced content for Apple+, HBOMax, Jigsaw Productions, Audible, Pineapple Street Studios, and Stitcher. A former Brooklyn public high school teacher for nearly a decade, Diane currently teaches directing and producing at New York University and works in development at Jigsaw Productions. She also has a MFA in Documentary Filmmaking from Wake Forest University. 

Jasmine Luoma - Director/Producer

Jasmine Luoma is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and photographer with an MFA from Wake Forest University in Documentary Filmmaking. 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. Her most recent producing work includes two seasons of the Emmy-nominated VOX series, Retro Tech, and Mother Jones and Chicken & Egg supported documentary short, One Shot One Kill. She also works as a creative producer and editor, and recently developed a true-crime documentary series with Nancy Schwartzman that will begin production in 2022.

Blair McClendon - Editor

Blair McClendon is an editor and filmmaker. He is 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. His work has also premiered at Tribeca, Cannes, TIFF, Telluride, and other festivals around the world. He was most recently an editor on The Assistant and Mr. Soul! and a consulting editor on Whose Streets

Brett Story - Consulting Producer

Brett Story is a filmmaker, writer and geographer based in Toronto. Her films have screened internationally at festivals such as CPH-DOX, the Viennale, SXSW, True/False, and Oberhausen. Her most recent feature documentary, The Hottest August, was a New York Times Critics’ Pick and is currently playing cinemas and festivals around the world. Brett has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Sundance Documentary Institute. Her 2016 feature documentary, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Hot Docs Documentary Festival and was a nominee for Best Feature Documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards. Brett is the author of the book, Prison Land: Mapping Carceral Power across Neoliberal America, and coeditor of the forthcoming volume, Digital Life in the Global City. She holds a PhD in geography and is currently an assistant professor in the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University.

Shantel Palacio - Producer

Shantel Palacio is a community advocate, education policy consultant, impact producer, and proud Brownsvillain. After growing tired of hearing negative news, har comments, and low expectation stereotypes about her neighborhood, she started Brownsvillain. She spent nearly 10 years as an administrator with the New York City Department of Education before pursuing a PhD in Leadership and Policty Studies at the University of New Hampshire. When she is not filming in Brownsville or coordinating workshops, Shantel researches the intersections of race, community, education law, and policy. She holds a BA in communication from Bryant University and a MPPA from UMass Amherst.

 

Connect With The Filmmakers:

ACCOLADES

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The Gotham Film & Media Institute - Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2022
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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
-
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
-
Brooklyn Film Festival Pitch Competition POV Award Winner 2018

 

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