Eight miles inland of Miami’s beaches, Liberty City residents fight to save their community from climate gentrification: their land, sitting on a ridge, becomes real estate gold.

US | 2023 | 86 minutes | Color | English |

SYNOPSIS

As rising seas threaten Miami’s luxurious beachfront, wealthy property owners are pushing inland to higher ground. Residents of the historically Black neighborhood of Liberty Square—the first segregated public housing project in the South—are the new target of an upcoming “revitalization” project due to their location 12 feet above sea level. RAZING LIBERTY SQUARE, a film by Academy Award nominated filmmaker Katja Esson (FERRY TALES, SKYDANCER, POETRY OF RESILIENCE, LATCHING ON), is a character-driven verité documentary that weaves personal stories with the larger social justice narrative of climate gentrification. Foremost, it is about a community fighting to save itself from being erased in a rapidly changing Miami.

The film begins in 2017, at the very time when the first homes of Liberty Square are razed to the ground to make way for a new $300 million mixed-income development. Initially, the community is hopeful this development will be different than past urban renewal projects, but it soon becomes clear it will be yet another instance in Miami’s long history of broken promises. RAZING LIBERTY SQUARE shares perspectives from residents, community advocates, teachers, developers, and politicians— with active resistance being led by neighborhood women, including a single mother of seven who has lived in public housing all her life, the founder and principal of Liberty Square’s only alternative school, and a local environmental activist who educates her community about Climate Gentrification.

RAZING LIBERTY SQUARE provides a looking glass for contemporary issues of wide-scale significance: the affordable housing crisis; the impact of systemic racism; and climate gentrification. While focused on Miami, which is experiencing sea level rise ahead of many other places, the story of Liberty Square is a prescient reminder of what is to come in communities across the U.S. and world.

PRESS

“One of [Hot Docs's] top films this year. . .The film does such a good job connecting viewers to its central characters that the ending feels like saying goodbye to friends — a rare achievement in documentaries about climate change and housing policy.”

Sabina Wex, CBC Arts

"Explores the ways in which the affordable housing crunch, cultural displacement and other problems are creating a new class of Black and brown activists... determined to educate their neighbors about the connections between climate change and the housing crisis."

“This year’s Change Maker Award was presented to a film that goes above and beyond in its effort to document the adverse effects of climate change, racism, and the housing crisis, and protect those who need that most.”

"The story of Liberty Square is also a cautionary tale of the future of many low-income communities in the face of climate change displacement. It's a story of racial segregation and a haunting reminder of Jim Crow laws."

Lena Simet, senior researcher and advocate Poverty and Inequality, Human Rights Watch

"Makes it seem as if solutions aren’t out of reach and that paradise may not be a place so much as the people around that can come together to make it one."

“Filmmaker Katja Esson (an Oscar-nominee for the short documentary "Ferry Tales") examines how the incursion of developers brings a concomitant influx of community organizers trying to warn residents about lofty promises of affordable housing that are, for many, too good to be true.”

“As rising sea-levels threaten the city of Miami, one local black community fight to save their neighbourhood from property developers and climate gentrification.”

“Razing Liberty Square follows the neighborhood’s residents as they combat ‘Climate Gentrification’ and try desperately to hold onto the community and culture that the city threatens to wrest away. ‘It’s a really terrific film about social injustice around climate change in Miami. Just wonderfully done.'"

Bernard Boo, Marin Magazine

SCREENING HIGHLIGHTS AND AWARDS

  • World of Ha Change-Maker Award, Woodstock Film Festival
  • Hot Docs International Film Festival
  • Doclands Documentary Film Festival
  • Human Rights Watch Film Festival, NY
  • Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival
  • Woodstock Film Festival
  • Jackson Wild Summit
  • FilmFest Hamburg, Germany
  • Hot Springs International Documentary Film Festival
  • Hawaii International Film Festival
  • Buffalo International Film Festival
  • Lane Doc Fest, Tennessee

ABOUT FILMMAKER(S)

Katja Esson

Katja Esson is an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, born in Germany and based in Miami. Known for her intimate character-driven documentaries tackling race, class, and gender, her credits include WMM release FERRY TALES, which turns the unlikely setting of the Staten Island Ferry Powder Room into a celebration of sisterhood (HBO 2004). In 2007, HOLE IN THE SKY - THE SCARS OF 9/11 received the Gold-Award at the World-Media-Festival. Her 2011 film SKYDANCER, a WMM release, about two Mohawk ironworkers torn between the Akwesasne reservation and New York City, received nominations for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Cinematography at the Shanghai Film Festival and premiered on PBS and ARTE in 2011. Katja’s POETRY OF RESILIENCE, a WMM release, was nominated for the Cinema for Peace Award in 2012. Her five-part documentary series BACKROADS USA (2014) and AMERICAN RIVERS (2016) premiered on ARTE and PBS in 2018. A Simons-Public Humanities Fellow at Kansas University, her films have screened at the Museum of Modern Art, American Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian. Katja’s work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Knight Foundation, ITVS, IDA Enterprise, NYSCA, the Redford Center, Sundance and the Ford Foundation. (10/23)


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