The following post was written by Jim Brooks – Program Director at the National League of Cities.
For the makers of the film DETROPIA, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the first priority is to contextualize a set of problems and move an audience toward understanding. Furthermore, their hope is to make the complex challenges of globalization, race relations, urban decay and the disconnections between citizens and government more approachable.
It’s a big task for any film. But, if the post-screening discussion at the Silver Docs film festival is any indication, the creators have achieved this first goal. The film informs, engages, provokes, challenges and inspires.
The focus is Detroit but the images and experiences have played out and are playing out in any number of urban centers around the country. The stories portrayed have broad applicability.
People ask if the film is an overture for or a eulogy to Detroit. I choose to think of the film as a requiem – an acknowledgement of what has been lost and a reminder of the durability of the spirit that may come forth again. Indeed, cities experience rebirth with startling regularity. It may take a generation of transformation, but cities have proven to be resilient. New York, Chattanooga and Pittsburgh are among the good examples of revitalization.
The film for all its grit and desolation gives the viewer cause for hope and optimism. The influx of young artists and knowledge economy workers is an established fact. Philanthropies and entrepreneurs have literally poured millions into Detroit seeking to catalyze change and jump start entrepreneurship. Even the big three U.S. auto makers are returning to profitability after the federal bailout.
But what really matters is the wit, faith and a clear-eyed judgment of the film’s leading personalities. Amidst the turmoil and poverty and helplessness, Crystal, Tommy and George leave me optimistic. Crystal sums it up best in her whisper of a comment, “Can’t leave now,” she says. “Can’t *****ing leave now.”
They are the civic voice in Detroit that is demanding a say both in the assessment of the city’s problems and in the crafting of solutions. They represent that undefinable aspect of humanity in cities who have adopted Winston Churchill as their patron saint. His words are their motto, “never flinch, never weary, never despair.”