Trashing Eminent Domain — Checker's latest film gets Niantic screening: The (New London CT) Day, 11/11/05

By Stephen Chupaska

Filmmaker Nick Checker is worried about people and homes ending up in the dustbin of New London's history.

“Trashed,' his latest picture is both a documentary and a short film about the intermingling of struggle of the Fort Trumbull residents and the city's homeless.

“I feel we had some important things to say,” Checker said.

The documentary part of the film, shot in color, features interviews with city leaders and is narrated in a chowder-thick accent by Father Russ Carmichael, head of the Grassroots Homeless Coalition in New London.

“Some people are just one paycheck away from the street,” Carmichael repeats several times in the film.

Former homeless woman Jennifer Jarvis said “Trashed” was a good project that let people know what it was like to be homeless.

Scott Sawyer, attorney for the seven property owners fighting against the development of Fort Trumbull, relayed the eminent domain story.

Republican City Councilor Rob Pero, the only member of the city government who agreed to be interviewed for the picture, commented on both the excising of social services and the legal kafuffle surrounding Fort Trumbull.

Pero soberly explained the reasons behind Fort Trumbull's redevelopment, tracing it back to both Pfizer's interest in the peninsula as well as the state's and city's hopes for economic capital.

Pat Serluca, former Social Services director, was impressed with the film.

“It was too good to end,” she said.

Pero, who voted to eliminate the social services department, said in the film that he hoped nonprofits could shoulder the burden.

The documentary includes footage of protests of both eminent domain and the loss of social services this past summer but does not provide the audience with a timeline of events leading up to the Supreme Court decision or information about the city's budget crisis.

The fictive portion of film, shot in black and white, stars Waterford native Kathryn Downie as Autumn, a young woman escaping an abusive relationship and arriving in Harbor City, a stand-in for New London.

Autumn soon finds work at a farm for abused horses, helping to rehabilitate a colt named In The Nick Of Time.

Due to a kindhearted landlord, Autumn finds an apartment in a house, which is soon padlocked by the Harbor City Blight Commission — a thinly-veiled reference to the New London Development Corp.

Checker, in the documentary portion of the movie, does not explain that none of the Fort Trumbull houses were blighted, one of the legal stipulations for the use of eminent domain.

"The neighborhood was never blighted," New London Deputy Mayor Bill Morse, who attended the screening at Niantic Cinemas, said. "There were only a few houses that were labeled that."

Morse added he appreciated the value of the movie's message.

In any case, the main character in the movie, Autumn, dressed in shabby thrift store clothes, is soon homeless, living in a box in the forest and lying about it to her saintly employers.

“I really fell into the character,” Downie said. “I related to her.”

Perhaps the unseen star of the film was editor Erik Hall, who managed to seamlessly marry the black-and-white and color footage.

“There was 12 hours of raw footage,” he said.

The film debuted last week to a packed house at Niantic Cinemas, which donated a screen.

Checker and his crew filmed “Trashed” during the late summer, shooting most of it in New London, even using a vacant house in Fort Trumbull as a location. In fact, Autumn can be seen walking past Susette Kelo's now famous pink cottage.

Hall said he plans to recut the picture to prepare for the national festival circuit.

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