Wednesday, April 25, 2007

M'Ville Caught on Film In Alum's Documentary - Manhattanville: A Neighborhood Under Siege Praised for Showing New Community Faces

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Caught on Film In Alum's Documentary
Manhattanville: A Neighborhood Under Siege Praised for Showing New Community Faces
By Anna Phillips
Issue date: 4/25/07 Section: News

From a large screen on the altar of St. Mary's Church in West Harlem, the familiar faces of Columbia University administrators and Manhattanville community activists flashed before an attentive congregation.

It was the first time Leah Michele Yananton, CC '04, had shown her documentary, Manhattanville: A Neighborhood Under Siege, to the community whose fight against Columbia's proposed expansion plans is encapsulated by the film. Yananton, a former Manhattanville resident, began the film three years ago with the help of former Columbia professor Larry Engel. Now complete, the documentary is the first visual chronicle of an urban development conflict that has been going on for several years.

It shows University President Lee Bollinger, a few years back, defending the proposed plans to the members of Community Board 9, and has scenes of the tent city erected by Coalition to Preserve Community members on Columbia's campus. The documentary offers new faces from the community-something Yananton was especially considerate of-in order to communicate a message to an administration she feels has written off some of the area's more vocal activists.

"The issue of the film is that we have a community here that's going to be lost," Yananton said. "I wanted to make a time capsule. I wanted to bring out the life of the community."

Those in attendance praised the film, and several remarked that the scenes of Bollinger explaining the University's need for more space made them "want to scream."

Following the documentary screening, several members of community activist organizations, as well as local business owners and residents, spoke out on the issues it brought up.

"The movie said it perfectly: it [the proposed expansion] didn't have to happen this way," said Tom Kappner, a leader of the CPC. Kappner lamented what he sees as a lack of University outreach into the Manhattanville community and said he saw little difference between the relationship between the community and University now and in 1968.

Members of the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification also spoke at the meeting. "We don't want an expansion in our name that's going to steamroll a community," said Andrew Lyubarsky, CC '09. Referring to several pro-expansion comments made by Columbia students in the documentary, Lyubarsky said there was work to be done. "Clearly, students are not informed about the expansion," he said.

At the end of the evening, Yananton was pleased, describing the film screening as "perfect."

"Community members have criticized the film, and Columbia students have criticized the film, so I think I must have done something right," she said.

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