Movie “Little Pink House” hammers Connecticut

I never thought I would feel sorry for former Connecticut College President Claire Gaudiani, considering her role in the use of eminent domain at New London’s Fort Trumbull, but I did Thursday during a screening of the new movie “Little Pink House.”

Indeed, the character representing Gaudiani, college president turned deal maker/home wrecker, is a one-sided caricature that paints her as relentlessly ambitious, egoistic, insensitive, inappropriately coquettish and outrageously overbearing, with one scene of her clicking wine glasses in a fancy restaurant over the planned demise of a neighborhood, juxtaposed with those neighborhood residents eating pizza out of a box.

“I love it when a man calls out my name,” the character Charlotte Wells purrs out during one scene, to someone calling for her attention in a meeting of angry residents. The president of Warthrup College, she has been put in charge of the bulldozing by the New London Development Corporation.

Gaudiani’s enabler in the crime of eminent domain, former Gov. John G. Rowland, is represented in a character equally pilloried, a jowly, swearing, corruption-ducking Republican governor who seems willing to do anything to mine votes from a poor Democratic stronghold city.

The depiction in the movie, screened Thursday night at the Athena Film Festival at Barnard College in New York City, of New London officials is embarrassing to the city, showing a City Council that recalls a closed meeting back into session to decide a Fort Trumbull demolition issue, after the interested parties had thought the meeting over and gone home.

The city’s scheming lawyers are made to seem incompetent, never mind that they, in the end, won Kelo v. City of New London before the U.S. Supreme Court.

And poor Pfizer, ridiculed with erectile dysfunction “boner” jokes, is portrayed as the evil empire, which never built anything for the NLDC, one of the big lies of the movie.

This new movie seems more like an infomercial for the Institute of Justice, the private advocacy group that waged the court war against New London on behalf of the Fort Trumbull eminent domain holdouts, than it does a fair-minded telling of the story, with all its real-life ambiguities and nuances.

Producer and Director Courtney Balaker, who also wrote the screenplay, based on the book by Jeff Benedict, said in an interview before the screening that the film production company run by her and her husband was recruited by the institute to make the move.

She said they found private investors who are sympathetic to the cause of fighting eminent domain.

In a session after the film, she told audience members they continue to work in “partnership” with the Institute for Justice on “outreach” with the move, raising money, etc.

Clearly this is why the movie feels so much like propaganda, missing the tragedy, for instance, of a character like Gaudiani, who, let’s be honest, had all the best intentions for New London, which she wanted to remake into a more vibrant, self-sustaining city.

A lot of city and state officials made crushing bad decisions that had enormous consequences, but the one-sided depiction in this movie is not by any means fair.

We also see nothing of the motives of the Institute for Justice, which is celebrated as a white knight. You expect Scott Bullock, the lawyer for the institute, now its president, according to the movie, at any minute to duck into a closet and change into his superhuman costume, standing up for the little guy.

The movie ends by saying Kelo v. City of New London, which the institute lost before the Supreme Court, was the most “widely hated decision” in U.S. history.

Says who?

The filmmakers are now shopping the movie around for a distributor. I suspect it may remain only an Institute for Justice fundraising tool.

Balaker said they would like to arrange a New London screening of the movie, which was shot in Canada. I wonder when that might happen.

There are few scenes shot in Connecticut, although there are some glimpses of the New London waterfront and an aerial of the gold-domed Capitol in Hartford, setting up the confrontation between the villains Rowland and Gaudiani, the few characters in the story with fictitious or no names, instead of their real ones.

“You didn’t have the balls to fire me yourself,” the shrewish Gaudiani character screams across the governor's vast desk in Hartford.

“Both sides came to despise you,” he hissed back.

That exchange certainly didn’t happen.

Watching it made me cringe on Gaudiani’s behalf, there in a film festival at Barnard meant to celebrate the accomplishments of “bold and audacious” women.

It’s propaganda, from people who lost the fight but are still working at winning the war.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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