The construction of a huge mall 18 miles north of Manhattan reveals the role of money, power and politics in the age of sprawl.
Directed by Vera Aronow, Sarah Mondale, Roger Grange
Produced by Megamall LLC
Director of Photography: Roger Grange
Written by Sarah Mondale, Vera Aronow
Edited by Vera Aronow
Music by Tom Phillips
Twelve years in the making, MEGAMALL documents the origins of the massive Palisades Center mall and its impact on the suburban community of West Nyack, New York, 18 miles north of Manhattan.
"See this film, get mad and then get involved." Bill Moyers - PBS
The film kicks off when the biggest mall developer in the Northeast comes to the smallest county in New York to build its biggest mall yet on a toxic dump, one mile from the filmmakers' homes. That move sparks a citizen uprising which lasts almost 20 years. It also inspires the filmmakers' quest to understand the dramatic events unfolding right in their backyard.
MEGAMALL turns out to be a local saga of epic proportions. We see big money overwhelm local governments, zoning and planning boards to impose a massive development project on a community, extract millions, and move on -- leaving the local community to bear the costs of road maintenance, increased crime, and shuttered stores downtown.
Featured throughout the film is provocative commentary from leading urban critics and writers, who give viewers the real story behind the mall-building business and challenge Americans to think about the consequences of our obsession with shopping. They include authors James Howard Kunstler (The Geography of Nowhere); Roberta Brandes Gratz ("Malling the Northeast" for The New York Times Magazine); and real estate economist Donavan Rypkema.
MEGAMALL is a gripping story of ordinary Americans who confront the forces that are changing the face of our nation. It is designed to give students and communities around the country the tools they need to understand the forces propelling growth. It encourages people to think of themselves as citizens--not consumers--and to take action in their own communities.
Grade Level: 9-12, General, Adults
US Release Date: 2010
Copyright Date: 2010
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-916-X
"I grew up in Rockland County, New York...I was a teenager during the heated struggle over the building of the Palisades Center...The very existence of this film seems to me to be an argument of sorts...an argument that, despite what my alienated teenager self believed, there actually is politics in the suburbs and there are important political stories to tell...The mallification of America...and the acts of local resistance against it...are central to bigger questions we ask about development, about consumption, about the homogenization of space and culture, about the relations betweens global economic structures and everyday life, and about the building of livable communities."
Hannah Gurman, Assistant Professor, School of Individualized Study, New York University
"Is local democracy for sale?...[The film] examines how greed, hypocrisy and treachery used under the banner of consumption-oriented economic development can invade and overwhelm local politics, but it also demonstrates that this can be contested. Megamall traces the complex path of the development of the Palisades Center and presents the perspectives of the developer, local government, community residents and shop owners, as well as outside analysts. Megamall is outstanding as a cautionary tale about the legacy of economic development decisions. The film delivers a strong message - complete with a close look into the hurly burly of local politics - about the importance of critical thinking, persistence and active participation by local residents in determining the fate of our communities. "
Greg Andranovich, Professor of Political Science, California State University, Los Angeles
"Megamall is a hard-hitting documentary film about the power of shopping mall developers to destroy communities. Everyone who cares about the quality of life and local control over land use should see it. The film dramatizes the twenty-year struggle of the citizens of suburban Rockland County, New York, to preserve their shared sense of community from outside forces that sought to build the second largest shopping mall in the country in their back yard...It was a hard lesson, but in the end Rockland County citizens learned they could seize control of their own neighborhood and guide their own destiny--an inspiration for all communities."
Emil Pocock, Professor of History and American Studies, Eastern Connecticut State University
"Megamall is a powerful documentary that masterfully tells the story of how one community confronts the pressures of suburban development and retail growth. Megamall is a call to action for local communities to engage in the political process to chart their own course. The documentary is loaded with rich archival history of the development of Palisades Center, interwoven with vivid personal interviews. Megamall is an objective inquiry into how politics, planning, and policy intersect into one of the most fascinating issues facing local governments: the growth and development of commercial suburban centers. All communities will find this documentary engaging and a story worth learning from."
Dr. Thomas Vicino, Department of Political Science, Northeastern University, Co-Author, Cities and Suburbs: New Metropolitan Realities in the US
"Megamall pulls back the curtain to reveal the complex inner-workings of small-town America, telling a fascinating story of local government caught between the outside influence of regional economic forces and the desires of the local community. [The film contains] a startling series of lessons for small towns in America that desire growth, that desire jobs, that desire economic sustainability, that desire access to the goods and services of everyday life closer to home, yet desire to retain their small-town way of life...Megamall explores in great detail a complicated story not just effecting the towns and villages of Rockland County, New York, but a story that is unfolding in countless small towns across the United States."
Robert Dorgan, Director, Institute for Small Town Studies
"It was fascinating to watch the story of the development unfold. Told partially through the eyes of one activist who rallied the community over the years, the arguments with hapless solicitors, raucous public meetings, technical setbacks and other mishaps that befell the citizens trying to stop the project seem like a page torn out of countless other stories of unsuccessful battles against unwanted developments...
The film also depicted the impacts of the mall on surrounding businesses and local government. The other retail centers in the region fell into decline as their anchor stores moved to the big new mall. The town center suffered as shoppers migrated to the superstores. Promised jobs turned out to be minimum wage, part-time positions. Public safety costs soared for both West Nyack and surrounding communities...
At times amusing and at times disheartening, the film documents how a single development changed the community forever. There were many lessons to be learned from the film. One conclusion that I drew is that not much has really changed in how we plan for future growth. While continued development is needed in many communities, unchecked growth has unintended consequences. We keep repeating the same mistakes."
Judy Schwank, President and CEO of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania
"A very effective film...What stands out here is a quality of compassion and understanding that is communicated so well by several interview subjects and by the script which Roger [Grange] so sensitively narrated. His voice [plus] the down home perspectives from man/woman-on-the-street interviews and the direct cinema quality of the town hall meetings work so well and combine to present a point of view that seems honest and thoughtful rather than manipulative."
Jason Starr, Artistic Director and President, Cultural Media Collaborative
Includes scene selection and SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Big Box Tool Kit web site - Countering mega-retailers - Reuilding local business
Awards and Festivals
Nominee - Social Justice Award for Documentary Film, Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Greater Reading Film Festiva
Eau Claire Progressive Film Festival
Citizenship and Civics
Labor and Work Issues
Urban and Regional Planning
|The New Metropolis|
Two short documentaries highlight the efforts of some of America's first suburbs to reverse their long decline.
How growth and sprawl affect the quality of life in New England, and some possible solutions.
Save Our Land, Save Our Towns
Examines the causes and effects of -- and then remedies for -- suburban sprawl.
Subdivide and Conquer
Suburban sprawl: causes and remedies.
... more Reviews
"Whether consulting with urban critics or registering the woes of local law enforecement over the added costs of dealing with mall-related crime, the filmmakers cast a wide net, taking in multiple perspectives...The twists are compelling."
The Wall Street Journal
"Struggles like the one portrayed here continue across the country. The documentary provides a glimpse of what may lie behind newspaper and television accounts of new development. It points out the price we pay for our obsession with consumerism. For students who feel less at stake in the loss of their communities, this film points out the dangers of short-term thinking; malls are designed to last only 30 years. For courses covering local government, corporate influence on government, citizen activism, and the transformation of small town America, this documentary offers a real story that will bring textbook studies to life. Recommended."
Sandy River, Texas Tech University, Educational Media Reviews Online
"Essential viewing for Northeast residents, but relentless 'malling' will be familiar to viewers in other regions as well."
"More than anything, Megamall asks us to reject passive consumerism in favor of active citizenship and dialogue about how corporate greed is shaping our very landscape."
Leslie Stonebraker, New York Press
"[Megamall] raises awareness about mall construction nationwide. Pyramid and other developers pick prime locations when building their 'consumption machines,' whether locals want them or not. Megamall gives an in depth overview of how mall makers are changing America's landscape and psyche."
Jennifer Merin, About.com
"An engaging drama with a strong point of view as well as a sense of humor. MEGAMALL is calm, credible and at the same time, maddening."
John Paul Newport
"An enthralling documentary about a small county's fight against a big mall developer... Examines the interesection between money, power and politics in ways that have implications for our own issues of adequate affordable housing vs. slow growth."
SB Sound (Santa Barbara)
"Megamall documents [a] David versus Goliath fight...It all comes together as a portrait of what we increasingly recognize as the overwhelmingly negative impact of the mall and big box lifestyle...No wonder I get nauseous when ever I'm inside a mall."
"The film reveals how our township governments, zoning and planning boards, were manipulated and the conflict between perceived economic growth and the needs of decades-old stores on Main Street were used to divide us...It is extremely well done, and well worth your time. It should be shown to citizen's organizations and in classrooms as a slice of real history."
The Nyack Villager
"A frightening documentary about America's biggest addiction: consumption. The equation is a classic: greedy developers, inhuman lawyers, consenting consumers and a handful of corrupted elected officials, all against a bunch of determined citizens...A well-paced documentary."