In 1930, Detriot was the fastest growing city in the world. Today it's on the verge of collapse. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady offer a haunting portrait of Detroit's woes in their visually arresting documentary, "Detropia." But it's not all doom and gloom.
Through archival footage of Detroit's heydays set against stark shots of contemporary wastelands, "Detropia" chronicles the demise of a megalopolis. Seen through the eyes of three stalwart residents, the audience gleans vast insight into why some refuse to abandon the city they love.
Crystal Starr, a young video blogger, remembers when Detriot "was bangin." She films deserted buildings and mansions that once basked in the sunlight of architectural grandeur during better days, now wallowing in urban decay. Mourning their demise, she imagines the glorious views once experienced by their inhabitants.
George McGregor, president of the United Auto Workers Local 22, also recalls better days when the rise of the middle class was in tandem with manufacturing. He recently presides over a meeting with American Axle workers asked to accept wage cuts ($14.35 per hour to $11.00). They refuse, the plant closes. The dichotomy between empathy versus reality permeates "Detropia" and it gets under your skin.
But Tommy Stephens, former schoolteacher and now proprietor of The Raven Lounge (located near a General Motors Plant) is a guy who really gets it. His insight into what's killing Detroit goes beyond outsourcing. He equates shutting down schools to shutting down futures. And, most importantly, he cites that when there is no buffer between the rich and the poor, revolution will ensue.
In a particularly poignant segment of the film, Stephens attends the International Auto Show. He's disturbed by the fact that Chinese version of Chevy's Volt is half the price. When he confronts the Volt reps about the discrepancy, they're dumbfounded. The words “scary” and “beware” come to mind.
"Detropia" is chock-full of staggering statistics, yet Ewing and Grady manage to buffer them with exquisite visual storytelling. The film is, ironically, beautiful to look at. The Detroit skyline is still breathtaking, reminding residents of the prosperous past.
And hope is on the horizon. There's been a 59% increase in young people moving into the downtown area due to phenomenally affordable housing. As Tommy Stephens points out, "Change is hard work.” And it looks as though Detroit and its residents who have undying faith in their beloved city, are up to the challenge.
— Pam Nadon
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