Best Documentary

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City – Film Review

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City – Film Review by Louise O’ Meara

Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Produced by: Matt Tyrnauer, Richard Hammond & Jenny Carchman

This documentary film recounts the battle between professional journalist and civil activist Jane Jacobs and property developer, and Trump like giant, Robert Moses in nineteen sixties America.

Jane Jacobs, conceivably the most influential figure in our understanding of modern cities was a highly observant and sensitively attuned individual, who watched people and how they behaved with a keen interest. A New York resident, she was outraged when she learned of Robert Moses’ urban renewal plans to “clean up” the streets of New York with a homogenous sterility, where people would be re-housed into high rise buildings of identical structures. Jane, a firm believer that “a city is about people not about buildings” was highly opposed to Moses’ plans and was determined to stop him in his tracks.

Snippets of televised interviews from the time with Moses and Jacobs are interwoven with quotes from her book, ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’, and current commentaries from professionals in urban renewal and also friends of Jacobs. This style of portrayal is underscored with airy runs from flute and string instruments, which lends itself to creating an overall light hearted, curiousness of presentation.

This film is a refreshing and inspiring watch. We are introduced to the two characters and presented with what happened in an open and not remarkably biased manner. Although you are rooting for Jacobs and her grass roots campaign, it is subtle and the film is not wholly unsympathetic to Moses. He is viewed rather as a symbolic figure of the dangers of the American dream. In post war America, he believed that “a carving knife” was all that was needed to “cut out the cancer” that were the areas of urban decay and for these ignorant opinions, it is possible to feel some sympathy for his narrow-mindedness. There is an over-riding feeling that he simply just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand people.

This film is less so a battle than an example of the rare delight when intuitive, perceptive and supportive understandings of the complexities of human behaviour triumph over the homogenous, unenlightened opinions of a money making fat cat. A quietly, bolstering watch for our current time.



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