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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Little Pink House

by writer/director Courtney Moorehead Balaker

Imagine you grow up on welfare, and struggle your whole life. You raise five boys, leave a bad marriage, and start over in a new town. You find a rundown cottage and scrape up enough money to buy it.

You fix it up with your own hands, paint it pink, and exhale. You finally have something that’s all yours. You’re finally home.

Then you hear that city officials are bent on bulldozing your home for the benefit of a giant corporation.

That’s what happened to Susette Kelo, and when I first heard her story I couldn’t believe it was something that could happen in our country.

Then I heard something else I couldn’t believe—Susette did not buckle to the powerful bullies. The blue-collar paramedic did the last thing they expected. She fought back.

I spent years as a development executive and producer on horror films. Making horror films was fun, but after a while I yearned to make films with meaning. I never walked away from a horror film feeling like I made the world a better place. Film can inspire people to right wrongs, and I wanted to start doing that. My husband Ted and I started our production company with a mission—making important ideas entertaining.

Telling Susette’s story would let us do just that, but would she let us tell her story?

It was hard to get Susette to commit to a meeting. She works long hours and does not like the spotlight, so the prospect of bringing her life story to the big screen was not particularly alluring to her. But we eventually got that meeting and after an evening of wings, beer, and laughs, she gave us her blessing to tell her story.

I was excited and terrified. This woman who I so admired trusted me—a first-time feature director—to tell her story. And by telling her story, I could raise awareness about eminent domain abuse, a type of legalized bullying that typically strikes poor and minority communities.

During the long and mostly sleepless days of principal photography, I learned another thing I couldn’t believe—it was so surreal: Here I was directing a feature film about this important but largely unknown issue with a strange name, meanwhile the most infamous practitioner of eminent domain abuse was running for president! Not only that, developer Donald Trump’s campaign seemed to be enjoying a fair amount of support.

Flashforward to today, and we are on the verge of a great wave of eminent domain abuse. In New York City officials are bulldozing a Korean family’s successful dry cleaning business so a developer may build an entertainment complex. In Los Angeles, officials might level Latino-owned businesses to make way for an L.A. Clippers facility. And of course there is the president’s border wall, which would likely spark widespread abuse.

I was terrified to make this film. There are more than 70 speaking roles, dozens of locations, and Ted and I had just been surprised with our first baby. But it would be embarrassing to learn about all that Susette had endured, and then shy away from the challenge of bringing her story to the screen.

At one point in her journey, Susette said to the redevelopment committee, “If you try and take my home away from me, the whole world is going to hear about it.”

They laughed in her face.

I made this film to honor Susette’s fortitude, to help bring an end to eminent domain abuse, and to help Susette make good on her promise.

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