Hell's Kitchen Park Offers Free Screening of 'Gasland'

By Meredith Hoffman on July 25, 2011 7:53pm 

HELL'S KITCHEN — Two neighborhood groups have joined forces to present a screening of the hydrofracking documentary "Gasland" at Matthews Palmer Playground, as part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize a local park while provoking a larger environmental debate.

The free event, on Aug. 1 at 8:30 p.m., will be the first documentary shown after six years of free screenings at the playground, between West 45th and 46th streets and Ninth and Tenth avenues.

The Academy Award-nominated film, which looks at the effects of hydrofracking, or extracting natural gas from shale deep beneath the earth's surface — with the potential to contaminate the water supply — reveals dangers of the controversial activity which appears headed for legalization in New York State. 

"This is a tremendous environmental issue we have to understand more fully," said Chana Widawski, vice-president of the block association which covers West 45th Street between Ninth Avenue and the Hudson River, which is co-hosting the event with the West Side Neighborhood Alliance.

"It's important to think about everything we benefit from, and how the communities and individuals are impacted."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is recommending a removal of the blanket ban on hydrofracking, while retaining the ban in and around the city's watershed as well as within 500 feet of state aquifers and on state land, including parks, forests and wildlife areas.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has recently issued a report reviewing the process, and is expected to put the issue up for public discussion in August.

Widawski said she hoped the film will generate discussion, just as all films at the playground foster mingling of the local community.

"All of our screenings have been to infuse the park with positive energy," she explained, adding that the playground's environment has recently improved from a place where "parents didn't want to bring their kids" to its current state as a community gathering place.

"There was drug use, loitering...but in the past year or two things have really changed," she said, noting that the neighborhood organizations' efforts combined with P.S. 51's recent use of the playground have helped transform the space. Other initiatives have included a free basketball tournament, and work to begin restoring the playground's historic Arnold Belkin mural.  

"We mostly have a fall film series...but our capacity and resources are growing," she said. "People bring sheets, blanket, and chairs — even living room chairs," she recounted about past screenings.

Everyone who comes also gets a coupon for a free drink at the local joint Rudy's Bar, she said.

"This is a way to get people outside talking to each other...to enjoy this space we call 'our own backyard.'"

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