‘The Hill’ drives home social justice issues
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 23:10
Flmmaker Lisa Molomot describes the city of New Haven as a very interesting place and a very complicated place in her moving film “The Hill.”
Molomot’s film certainly brought out the complexities of what seemed to be a simple school renovation project. While on the surface the new John C. Daniels Magnet School was a huge coup for both New Haven and for the nearby Yale Hospital, Molomot was driven to show that all was not as it seemed.
Molomot’s film depicts the struggle faced by residents of one subsection of the “Upper Hill” area of New Haven as the city exercised eminent domain in order to replace a crumbling old magnet school with a brand-new building. Molomot used the film medium to convey the racial and social implications of the rebuilding project through interviews and stunning footage of a neighborhood in a final fight for survival. Her hour-long film packed both an emotional and academic punch. While the statistics of the story are stunning – 123 housing units were demolished and 94 families relocated in the building of the school – it is the human stories at play in this dynamic that truly make the film remarkable and, at times, provoke intense viewer reactions. For example, when it was revealed that four people interviewed in the documentary have since passed away – many at relatively young ages – there were several audible and emphatic expressions of sadness and surprise throughout the audience.
The event itself – hosted by UConn’s urban and community studies program – was also well done, if perhaps catered toward students enrolled in the program. Professor Brian Rosa of the urban and community studies department framed the discussion after the film, tying in academic content from his courses and the program overall with some of the more visceral, provocative details addressed in the film. Rosa noted that, “when a city wants to demolish an area, they need to portray it as a ‘slum.’” This did seem to aptly sum up the city’s actions throughout the demolition project, at least as they were portrayed in the film.
Molomot, for her part, gave impassioned yet eloquent responses as part of a small question-and-answer session after the film, and several students posed very insightful and nuanced questions. While most of the audience was taking part in the event as a requirement for urban studies courses, the emotional impact of the event went above and beyond the traditional social science curriculum. Sevasti Jalanis, a 7th-semester urban and community studies major and criminal justice minor, commented that, “you don’t often see [Molomot’s] level of passion in documentaries,” and was pleased to see that “she spoke to the residents face to face.” Jalanis went on to emphatically praise the film’s impact on her and her peers. “Social justice is such an important issue,” she said, “and I feel like everyone here definitely got something out of this.”