FLASH­BACK TO FORT TRUM­BULL

‘Lit­tle Pink House,’ film about New Lon­don’s em­i­nent do­main drama, de­buts at the Garde

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By CHARLES T. CLARK Day Staff Writer

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.”

“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.” AMY KENNEDY OF GRO­TON

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.

SARAH GOR­DON/THE DAY

Susette Kelo signs a copy of “Lit­tle Pink House” be­fore the movie pre­miere on Sun­day at the Garde Arts Cen­ter in New Lon­don. The film adap­ta­tion of Jeff Bene­dict’s book about Kelo and the fight against em­i­nent do­main in the Fort Trum­bull neigh­bor­hood will move on to a lim­ited na­tional re­lease.

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