Hollywood film paints New London pink

The Little Pink House, made famous by the Kelo vs. New London decision and the book and movie based on it, now sits on Franklin Street in New London. (photo by John Steward)
The Little Pink House, made famous by the Kelo vs. New London decision and the book and movie based on it, now sits on Franklin Street in New London. (photo by John Steward)

It was a red carpet, Hollywood event at the Garde Arts Center in New London on a recent chilly April evening.

The stars were out for the world premiere of the newly released movie “Little Pink House,” based on New London’s Fort Trumbull eminent domain fiasco that ended in 2005 with a United States Supreme Court ruling in favor of the city.

The ruling uprooted families and destroyed homes for development that never occurred.

The Institute for Justice, the non-profit legal firm representing Fort Trumbull homeowners, called the Kelo v. New London ruling “the most universally despised Supreme Court decision in modern history.”

The star of the show, Susette Kelo, the plaintiff in Kelo v. New London, was in attendance at the premiere, along with local author Jeff Benedict, who wrote the book “Little Pink House,” and movie director and screenwriter Courtney Moorehead Balaker.

Electricity was in the air, a palpable vibrancy reverberating through the crowded theater that night. It was Kelo’s time to shine.

Every patron felt her presence. The beautiful, historic movie palace was alive with social relevancy, a community fully united. It was ground zero in the national eminent domain fight.

From the first somber frames of the film, anyone with a heart was on Kelo’s side.

It’s a heartbreaking story, and I can only guess what emotions ran through her mind as she revisited the fight of her life, watching backhoes destroying family homes, forced to relive her worst nightmare on the big screen.

Near the end of movie, a still picture of the local celebrity appeared on the screen, larger than life, with the caption “This is the real Susette Kelo,” to thunderous applause.

Then, a shot of her standing on the New London Development Corporation’s masterpiece: a barren, desolate, ruined Fort Trumbull neighborhood, vacant to this day, every dream on all sides shattered, a total catastrophe.

Leaving the Garde, New London felt different.

This was Kelo’s moment, but it was also the people’s moment. This is our catastrophe, our movie, and Susette Kelo is our hometown hero.

She may have lost in the end, but Kelo v. New London provided some bittersweet redemption, as cities and towns across the nation passed legislation to protect local homeowners from the United States Supreme Court.

Susette Kelo showed what courage and community can do. For the first time, I felt the human side of New London.

We walked past the courthouse, down Cottage Street to the car, collars turned up against the cold rain. Straight ahead we could see the original Little Pink House, now relocated to Franklin Street at the end of Cottage Street.

Seeing that picturesque little home, radiating the cruelty of eminent domain, imbued with such inspiration, provided a stunning cinematic exclamation point, a poignant conclusion to a remarkable evening.

How often does one walk from a theater, past the subject of the film? Does it get any better than that?

Editor’s Note: After the sold-out crowd April 15, the Garde Arts Center scheduled a second screening of “Little Pink House” for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 5. Tickets are $12. For more information, call (860) 444-7373.

John Steward lives in Waterford. He can be reached at tossinglines@gmail.com. Read more at www.johnsteward.online.

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