'Little Pink House' makes its movie theater debut on Sunday

Susette Kelo signs a copy of 'Little Pink House' before the movie premiere on Sunday, April 15, 2018, at Garde Arts Center.  The film adaptation of Jeff Benedict's book about Kelo's fight against eminent domain in New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood will move on to a limited national release. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Susette Kelo signs a copy of "Little Pink House" before the movie premiere on Sunday, April 15, 2018, at Garde Arts Center. The film adaptation of Jeff Benedict's book about Kelo's fight against eminent domain in New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood will move on to a limited national release. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

New London — A sellout crowd of more than 1,000 people packed the Garde Arts Center on Sunday to be among the first to see Hollywood’s take on the controversy that made New London a household name.

“Little Pink House,” the film adaptation of Jeff Benedict’s book of the same name that highlights the fight against the use of eminent domain in the New London’s Fort Trumbull neighborhood, had its movie theater debut Sunday after making the rounds at film festivals.

“I was dreaming that one day we’d get to see this,” Benedict, a Waterford native, told the audience before the screening, recalling how he knew early on the story was one that would do well on the big screen. In attendance for the screening were director Courtney Moorehead Balaker and producer Ted Balaker.

Following its New London debut, the film will receive a limited national release in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Atlanta.

Although the film had been shown at film festivals before its showing Sunday, it is difficult to imagine anywhere else that the film received the kind of reaction it did in New London, where many audience members had witnessed firsthand the effort to force residents from their homes.

In fact, throughout the film it wasn’t uncommon for applause — or light sneers — to break out as moviegoers recognized people and events including the much maligned former Gov. John Rowland.

In 2000, as part of an attempt to bolster economic development, the City Council enabled the private, nonprofit New London Development Corp. to use eminent domain to seize private property from residents as it attempted a $70 million state-funded overhaul of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. At the time the neighborhood was adjacent to where Pfizer Inc. had announced it would build a $300 million global research headquarters.

However, residents fought back, and seven property owners who did not want to sell their combined 15 commercial and residential properties filed a lawsuit against the city. That case, Kelo v. City of New London, would make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Fort Trumbull residents were led by homeowner Susette Kelo, portrayed in the film by Catherine Keener, an Oscar-nominated actress who has appeared in such films as “Capote,” “Being John Malkovich” and “Get Out.”

Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city and residents were forced to move from their homes, which were then demolished. Today, the Fort Trumbull neighborhood sits mostly vacant.

“It is a nationwide issue that began here in New London with a really brave, unassuming woman, who I don’t think ever really wanted the spotlight,” said Amy Kennedy, a longtime Groton resident who attended the film with her husband Michael.

Overall the film was well-received, receiving raucous applause when it ended.

Diana and Paul McMaster of Waterford, said they thought the movie was a beautiful story and nicely done, and they really enjoyed the way its ending wove together the real people who went through the ordeal.

Meanwhile, Margaret McCarthy and Denis Cronin of Lebanon said they really enjoyed the film and felt it had a powerful takeaway.

“It’s important to stand up for what you believe is right. You may not win, but at least you make your voice heard,” said McCarthy, who had followed the story from afar during her more than 30 years living in the area.

c.clark@theday.com

Local author Jeff Benedict, right, signs books during the premiere of 'Little Pink House' on Sunday, April 15, 2018, at Garde Arts Center. The film adaptation of Jeff Benedict's book about Kelo's fight against eminent domain in New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood will move on to a limited national release. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Local author Jeff Benedict, right, signs books during the premiere of "Little Pink House" on Sunday, April 15, 2018, at Garde Arts Center. The film adaptation of Jeff Benedict's book about Kelo's fight against eminent domain in New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood will move on to a limited national release. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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