First Run Features // 2008 // 46 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // December 18th, 2008
Big box stores invading close-knit communities? This can't be good.
One day, D.W. Young was walking down the old streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn, when he spied a gap in a corrugated steel fence with a makeshift door over it. In the spirit of adventure, Young decided to go through the door. Behind it, he found a "gated community" of homemade shacks for homeless people. Interestingly, this place wasn't on a map. There was supposed to be a building there, but clearly there was not. The place, in essence, didn't exist and, as a result, this space has remained a haven for the homeless for some time. Young goes around on the street, asking the question, "Have you ever gone through the door?" What he finds begins an exploration that leads to the darkness of modern consumerism.
Young takes an oblique path to the main thrust of his film, but his explorations into the lives of the homeless and urban decay make for a thought-provoking, (eventually) infuriating, 45 minutes. Through interviews with people on the street and a couple of Cornell University students who have worked extensively with the people who live there, we learn a bit about the history of Red Hook and this place in particular. The homeless community, however, is a springboard to discuss the impending threat of Ikea, the Swedish discount furniture retailer, opening its first New York City location in Red Hook. Unlike their other stores, and as is the state of most big box chains, which feature easy access off the highway, this store will be right on the docks, directly across the street from a children's park. The sensible notion that all this traffic will make the park dangerous for kids goes unheeded. Concerns that the store will force the destruction of several Civil War-era buildings and a still-working graving dock, essential for emergency ship repairs, are scoffed at. Advocates for the preservation of the area asked whether all this destruction was really necessary. Well, of course. Have you ever seen an Ikea parking lot? It's perfect; they must destroy everything around it to make room. These advocates even went so far as to create a building plan that would replace the lot with a storied parking garage, giving Ikea the same parking space while preserving the history of the site. This didn't matter, the corporation had hundreds of thousands of square feet to fill and this so-called "garage" is certainly not in their vision.
A Hole in a Fence is left open-ended; the conversation was on-going at the time of filming. Young gives a good accound of the one side of the argument, but there is no word from the retailer. They don't really have that valid a case, to me anyway. Greed is the only reason that they want to build here; they can, they want to, so they will. Clearly, there are better places to build than smack in the middle of an 11,000 person community across from a park. The people of Red Hook have expressed nothing but resentment over the project. Though some hold out hope that Ikea will bring jobs to the community, most understand that it's one more step toward the gentrification of Red Hook.
In the aftermath of the documentary, the people of Red Hook lost. The Ikea opened in June of '08 with no alteration to the building plan. The old buildings are gone, the graving dock has been filled, though there is no word about safety issues around the park. In many ways, the advocates have turned out wise, however. Ikea incurred huge fines for pouring massive amounts of asbestos into the air. The city of New York now realizes that they misjudged the allowance to fill in the graving dock. They used a 15-year-old map and didn't realize that it was both still in use and necessary. Now, to rebuild a similar dock, it will cost the city in excess of a billion dollars. As far as local jobs, Ikea has a closeted hiring policy and will not acknowledge that they have hired a single Red Hook resident. More dastardly deceit from corporations, under the guise of the rights of Capitalism, to hornswoggle cities into filling their coffers. Situations like this are absolutely infuriating to me.
A Hole in a Fence is a zero budget documentary and there are no frills to First Run Features's release. Video and sound are both adequate. For extras, we have some extended interviews and a short film that consists of shots of the city from behind and around the fence.
Informative and rich in urban beauty, D.W. Young has done a great job
shining a light on an unfortunate and under-discussed topic. He and his film are
not guilty. Ikea is guilty of help to feed the unhealthy consumption that has
gotten us into quite a mess, though nobody can or will stop the bleeding.
Review content copyright © 2008 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 46 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short film
* Extended interviews
* Official site