Monday, October 19, 2015

Ben Affleck's Urban Renewal Project

In less than a month, Ben Affleck has managed to do what the citizens of Brunswick, Georgia haven't been able to do in a decade.

They are shooting another movie down here.  One of the smart things the local governments have done is to welcome movie companies into the area.  The State of Georgia is also very active in this regard.

Ben Affleck is directing and starring in a new movie, and he has chosen depressed Brunswick, Georgia to shoot it in.  Overnight, the derelict east-end part of town, which was a collection of blown-out storefronts or torn-down buildings, has been turned into a depression-era town, replete with new storefronts and even a Mexican restaurant, which they are building from scratch on a vacant lot.   Apparently, it is supposed to be a town (Ibor City) with a lot of Cuban-Americans, according to some articles.

Whatever the case is, the city has never looked so good.  Who knew that putting up some new signs, cleaning up the storefronts and making a few minor improvements could make such a huge difference?

And in Hollywood tradition, all of this took a mere matter of weeks (they've even torn up some roads in places, for the movie!).

Of course, you could argue that Hollywood has a lot of money - millions to spend - on stuff like sets and whatnot.  However, the cost of a simple sign and storefront overhaul isn't all that great.   And it is amazing how an abandoned building could be changed overnight with a mere coat of paint and a little work from a sign-maker.

Why is this so hard?  Brunswick has been trying to "remake" itself as a cutsy olde towne district with little success, over the last decade or so.

The answer, I think, lies in what I have called "poverty of the spirit".   One sobering thing about returning to the Old South is realizing how lackadaisical and uninspired most of the people are here.   Making an effort at anything is seen as just a waste of time.  And folks spend most of their time finding excuses not to do things, or to blame their inactivity on others.

The best restaurants in town have wait staff from Romania or Hungary.  Why?  Because you can't get a local person - black or white - to put serious effort into such a job.  In Europe, working at a restaurant is seen as a respectable profession.  In America, it is seen as something you do while in college, or even high school, as a "McJob" until that corner-office, six-figure-salary, no-work management job comes along.  Hey, I got a degree, life should be like "The Office" - right?

Similarly, local property owners are not interested in putting any money into improving their properties, perhaps to attract better tenants.  Rather, they charge outrageous rents (for the area) and then jack the rent if the tenant seems to be at all successful.

Case in point is a local Mexican restaurant.  It was doing pretty well - the parking lot was full, and there was a line out the door.  So the landlord decided to double the rent and take a 'taste' of these profits.   The place closed and remained vacant for five years.  Now some ill-fated barbecue stand is going in there, and the results will be predictable.

lack of imagination.  Greed.  Low expectations.  Lack of vision.  Stupidity, prejudice, and ignorance.  That's the "old South" in a nutshell, and if you doubt me, take a look at the insanity that is going on right across the border in Alabama right now, as the governor struggles to keep the State together in view of a draconian budget proposed by the legislature, while the State's court system falls apart over gay marriage.   Would you want to move there or house a factory there?  I am sure Mercedes is having second thoughts, particularly after their executives have been arrested more than one time on immigration charges.

"Ve vont to see your papers, please!" - You'd think Germans would be used to the Gestapo.

I am glad that Mr. Affleck has decided to film here.  But I wonder if the locals realize that in one short month, he has basically shamed them and exposed their ignorance, greed, and lack of imagination.

 Short video of set construction....made using a potato.