Academy Award nominated filmmaker Katja Esson’s RAZING LIBERTY SQUARE is a character-driven verité documentary that weaves personal stories in and out of the larger social justice narrative on Climate Gentrification. The stories originate at the intersection of race, climate, and socio-economic gentrification and examines the assumptions regarding who matters—and who doesn’t—and about land and who controls it. As rising seas threaten Miami’s luxurious beachfront, wealthy property owners are pushing inland to higher ground. The historically black neighborhood of Liberty City, which has been ignored by developers and policy-makers alike, for generations is 12 feet above sea level, has now becomes more attractive to the wealthy with each rising tide. At the heart of Liberty City is the Liberty Square housing projects, the first segregated public housing project in the South. New Liberty Square: a $300 million mixed income development. The dramatic changes happening in Miami’s Liberty Square are a looking glass for contemporary issues of wide-scale significance: the affordable housing crisis, the impact of systemic racism and climate gentrification. Miami is experiencing sea level rise before the rest of the country. What is happening in Liberty Square is a prescient story of what is to come, and strategies put to the test here are being closely observed by the rest of the world. Director / Producer Katja Esson (Ferry Tales, Poetry of Resilience) joins us for a conversation on how she came to know about the history and looming fate of Liberty Square, why ringing the bell on relationship between rising sea levels, systemic racism, affordable housing and Climate Gentrification should scare the hell out of every community in here in America and beyond.
The history of Liberty Square – Despite its eclectic mix of cultures, Miami is one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States (remnants of the 6-foot-high ‘race wall’ are still visible today). Liberty Square and the surrounding Liberty City that grew up around it were a cultural hot-spot for famous black entertainers and public figures. Barred from the whites-only beach hotels, where they consistently sold out performances, world-class celebrities like Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne had to stay in Liberty City hotels like the Hampton House. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the first version of his “I Have a Dream” speech there and Malcolm X threw a victory party for Cassius Clay after he beat Sonny Liston in 1965.
About the filmmaker – Katja Esson ( Director/Producer ) is an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker based in Miami. She is known for her character-driven documentaries tackling race, class, and gender. Her documentary short Ferry Tales garnered awards at international film festivals, was nominated for an Oscar and premiered on HBO in 2004. Other notable films include: Hole in the Sky – The Scars of 9/11; Skydancer; and Poetry of Resilience (Cinema for Peace Award Nomination). She was awarded the Simons Public Humanities Fellowship at Kansas University and her films have screened at the Museum of Modern Art, American Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian. Her work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation.