Filmmaker and New Haven resident Lisa Molomot found inspiration for her 2013 documentary, “The Hill,” from an unlikely source — her real-estate agent. When she moved to New Haven in 2001, Molomot soon learned that the city government planned to demolish 123 homes to make space for a magnet school in the Elm City’s Upper Hill neighborhood. Residents of the area — many of whom are African-American and low-income — proceeded to challenge the government’s decision in court.
Molomot documented the residents’ struggle in her hour-long movie “The Hill.”
“[The film] was a way to get to know New Haven,” Molomot said. “It was a way to make sense of the city.”
Despite the film’s political and racial undertones, Molomot said her work is not concerned with New Haven politics at large. The film is “a human story,” she said, tracing a particular event at a particular time.
Ruth Drews, a local pastor residing in Upper Hill and a community member featured in the film, said the legal battle between the residents and the city was underreported in local media outlets, making Molomot’s film an important historical record.
“There are some people that live nearby and didn’t know all this was happening,” said Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League — a local organization that supports projects that aims to create a sustainable city by tackling issues such as historical preservation of New Haven sites and street safety. “It just shows the communication barrier in the city.”
Farwell was also featured in the film, as the group helped organize community members during the lawsuit.
Though residents failed to stop the demolition of their homes, Drews said she thinks they “won in every way except the court case,” adding that public opinion was on their side. Despite substantial urban restructuring efforts, including the ongoing Downtown Crossing project, local authorities have not attempted to demolish any residential homes since the proceedings in Upper Hill.
“I would like to think that the government of New Haven has learned its lesson,” Drews said.
The construction of the John C. Daniels magnet school was part of an extensive fifteen-year long citywide school construction program. Farwell questioned whether the magnet school benefits the neighborhood, as the school does not draw exclusively from the local student population.
Since its release, Molomot and Farwell have organized screenings of “The Hill” throughout the city, often in nearby schools and local libraries.
“I think for young people especially, the film actually has more meaning because they can actually change the world,” Molomot said.
The two have tried to raise funds for a screening of the documentary at a prominent venue, but adequate funds for such a screening have not yet been secured.
The Yale Law School plans to host a private screening of “The Hill,” examining the legal rationale behind the residents’ defeat. Farwell encouraged student groups on campus to host viewings, and Molomot said she hopes to screen the movie at Yale in the future.
“The Hill” won Best Documentary Feature at the Greenpoint Film Festival earlier this month.