Directed by Phil Klein and released in 2009, "Begging for Millionaires" is a documentary that explores the personal tragedies of abuse of eminent domain. The documentary, which took the awards for Best of Fest at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Texandance International Film Festival, reports on the struggle by multigeneration homeowners to keep their homes out of the hands of the private sector.
"Begging for Billionaires" is an exploration of eminent domain, the process by which a government forcibly buys private property for projects such as schools, roads or government offices. Klein's documentary sheds light on the private sector's role in eminent domain, particularly in two of the states hit hardest: Kansas and Missouri. Through research and private interviews, the documentary finds that the private sector manipulates the government through bribes, erroneous classifications of "blight," and harassment of private owner.
The Kelo Case
In "Begging for Billionaires," Klein blames the Kansas and Missouri eminent domain battles on the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court Kelo case, which gave government the right to enact eminent domain on the behalf of the private sector. In that case, the court found that private-sector development would promote community development. Under their ruling, private properties, if used for the public good, were found to be eligible for private-sector use under the Fifth Amendment's "takings clause."
Klein interviews the owners of homes and businesses in Kansas and Missouri, many with multiple-generation homes and business locations. One story line focuses on Jim Roos, a Lutheran minister in St. Louis who was fighting in court to save his church-sponsored, low-income housing, much of which had been bulldozed to make room for high-end retail shops and apartments. Another story followed throughout the film is the destruction of Darryl Penner's business in Kansas City, Mo. The third-generation clothing store was shut down to make room for a skyscraper that housed a commercial competitor clothing store.
With expert interviewing style, "Begging for Billionaires" relays tearful personal property eminent domain cases as well. In one story line, Richmond Heights, Missouri-homeowner JoAnne Bailey fights for her historic-district home, deemed a "blight" by the city. If the government's eminent-domain case moved forward, the mostly black, once-segregated neighborhood of Richmond Heights neighborhood would be reconstructed for private-sector use. In some harrowing scenes, owners race to grab personal possessions before their homes are bulldozed.
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