Michelle Taylor is co-founder of Electrolift Creative and producer of the new documentary Gotham: The Fall and Rise of New York, which chronicles the city’s renewal starting in the 1990s and introduces the people and ideas responsible for the dramatic turnaround that ensued. She spoke with City Journal associate editor Daniel Kennelly.
Tell us about the origins of this film.
Gotham started out as a straightforward history documentary. I was talking with Larry Mone, former president of the Manhattan Institute, and he wanted to capture the story of New York City’s turnaround in the 1990s. As an independent film producer, I wanted to get the individuals involved in that story to tell on camera how it happened. In a nutshell, the film’s goal was to explain how New York went from Fear City to the City of Dreams.
However, months into pre-production, Covid hit. That kept shutting us down, and soon afterward, it became evident to many New Yorkers that their city had started a new decline. We shifted the focus of the documentary somewhat. We didn’t want merely to re-tell the history but also to create a blueprint for the future. New York City came back once before. And back then, it was in a much deeper and darker hole.
I’m hopeful that we can do it again. We know the policies and ideas that it takes for urban cities to flourish. Unfortunately, they are not the policies being implemented by most urban leaders today. But we did it once, and as they say, if you can do it in New York, you can do it anywhere. America’s cities were once her crown jewel; and I hope they will be again someday.
Why do you choose to end the film before Bill de Blasio’s election as mayor and New York’s present problems?
A good question! I would have loved to tell more of the story, but that would have resulted in a film of more than four hours, and I’m not sure anyone would watch for that long. The director and I did have to make some hard choices about cuts. Ultimately, the movie is about New York City’s turnaround—a turnaround that stopped when de Blasio became mayor. The story of New York’s current problems is a movie all in itself.
What was the most challenging aspect of bringing this story to the screen?
Covid was the biggest obstacle. We conducted the film’s first five interviews in our apartment in October 2020 because all the studios around the city were shut down. The city’s ever-changing Covid rules made production difficult.
We also struggled with how to make a story about urban policy visually compelling. You have to ask yourself, “What do you see on screen?” And then you need to make sure it is both interesting and entertaining. Otherwise, you lose the audience.
What can you tell us about your future projects?
We’re in the early stages of a documentary examining the complicated history of federal monetary policy from World War I to today and what these policies mean for the future (spoiler alert: it is not a happy ending). And we are in preproduction on a comedy that we will be shooting this summer in Austin, Texas.