Detropia Review (Kirk Haviland)

Detropia (2012)

Written and Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

The once bustling city of Detroit is a shadow of its former self. Starting back in 2010 when the economic downturn was in full swing, Detroit went from downturn to depression in a heartbeat. With the closures of local automobile production plants, the heart of Detroit’s manufacturing industry, other key business people started leaving Detroit in droves. Once one of the fastest growing cities in the world, Detroit now ranks among the highest cities in lost population over the last couple of years. While the families have moved on, the younger generation of bloggers and performance artist have now claimed it due to cheaper housing and access.

Detropia starts before the economic buyouts that turned around the auto industry in Detroit. These were the leanest of days, focusing on the few that stayed fighting and trying to rally the city back to its former glory. The city itself is broke, having to find ways to stay afloat by cutting essential services and social programs just to avoid declaring outright bankruptcy. The film focuses mainly on three Detroit citizens/activists and the Mayoral offices of the city. Crystal Starr is a video blogger determined revitalize the abandoned buildings and streets of Detroit, she also works in a coffee shop during the day. George McGregor is the head of Local 22 of the auto workers union, desperately trying to save the jobs of his fellow unionists as the companies and jobs available continue to dwindle. Tommy Stephens is a retired school teacher who owns a local lounge keeping the Motown tradition alive with great live bands performing every night, but he can’t help but seeing the struggling neighborhood around him every day.

Directors Ewing and Grady spend the bulk of the film exploring the current state of Detroit, with minor glimpses of the past blended in. The course of the film takes a dramatic twist when the US Government bail outs occurs and the people of Detroit get their manufacturing division back, but not without cost. There is a poignant scene that depicts the amount of struggle and compromise through a worker’s call to George who just wants to know what is left of the medical coverage that wasn’t sacrificed for the new deal to go back to work. Other impactful moments include a trip to the auto show by Tommy that results in a wakeup call when he realizes the amount being charged for hybrid vehicles out of Detroit is almost double those coming from China and other places in the world. And right near the beginning of the film Crystal walks us through an abandoned building with some of the most spectacular views of the city and wonders who would ever give that up. The scene that summed it up best for me is a simple steady shot on a 12 story wall that was once a building, swaying in the wind unsupported while pieces of the wall fall downward to the ground.

In the end Detropia delivers a strong message and a real feel of what modern day Detroit citizens are coping and dealing with. While not every aspect and decision in the film works, I know why they show the performance artists and their story but in the end it becomes superfluous. However, there really is some good footage here and the three main focused characters really are engaging. Detropia is a recommend.

Detropia has an exclusive run at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on now until October 19th.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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