An Elegy For Motor City and Urban America
The current crop of documentaries about the U.S. economic crisis approach the subject from varying points of view, including analysis by on camera witnesses who explain use graphs and pie charts to explain how America's finances got so bad. Other economic crisis films reveal the impact of the actions of bad moguls like Bernie Madoff, Mark Drier and the Exxon boys. And, there are those that expose the egregious worldwide effects of America's industrial expansion to foreign lands where U.S. companies create environmental disasters and leave exploited people diseased and without alternative means of self-support.
In Detropia, filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady focus on the economic woes of the once prosperous city of Detroit, heartland America's industrial capital and headquarters for the nation's auto makers, but now in deep financial decline and civic crisis.
The Cast of Characters
With cameras rolling, the filmmakers follow a diverse selection of Detroit citizens who serve almost as tour guides through the city, pointing out various locales, events and situations that reveal, one by one, different aspects of the blighted city's plight.
There is the union leader who drives past the huge and silent structures of abandoned auto manufacturing plants, the corporate owners of which have relocated the production and employment opportunities to Mexico or other foreign lands where labor is cheap, and who conducts union meetings with disgruntled laborers who must accept wage cuts and decreased benefits or lose their jobs altogether.
There is a young waitress who writes a popular independent blog about Detroit lifestyle, often comparing the city's past and present attributes. She examines abandoned apartments and offices, wondering what's become of the citizens who once populated them.
There are two performance artists who collaborate to stage street actions to raise public awareness about civic issues.
And, there's a group of jobless young men who've banned together in the illegal enterprise of salvaging copper pipes from abandoned buildings and selling the loot for their survival money.
Job SecurityThen, we meet up with a laborer who has one of the busiest, most productive and seemingly most secure employment situations in town. He's the contract player hired by the city to tear down abandoned homes and haul Detroit's detritus off to some landfill somewhere. The city is downsizing. Authorities are wiping out neighborhoods, shutting down schools and limiting other services because the city is broke and can't afford to cover even the essentials. Citizens are frustrated, angry and determined not to let their beloved city die. But despite a lot of positive rhetoric, nobody has any viable solutions for the problems. And, the future looks grim.
Set For Destruction
The city's shut down/tear down schedule is simply staggering. As the camera focuses on the wrecking crane's attack on a lovely and seemingly still quite livable house -- the owners of which perhaps had to leave it because of a foreclosure -- a title card appears on the screen, indicating that there are thousands of such homes scheduled for destruction. Thousands. It's hard to believe that a better solution can't be found for the viable properties, especially when so many people in the world are homeless.
Detropia Beyond Detroit
With sequences like those covering the wrecking ball -- and its ironic implications -- the filmmakers connect Detropia to what's happening in cities large, small and mid-sized across the U.S., and the film becomes a powerful thought provoking and rather worrisome projected profile of contemporary American urban life. This is done without voice over narration that tells you what to think.
Ewing (who grew up in Detroit and knows the city intimately) and Grady masterfully create an extremely strong and richly textured verite city profile that effectively captures Detroit's current mood and status, and the sad desperation and understandable anger of its residents.
Craig Atkinson and Tony Hardmon's camera work is stunningly beautiful and always appropriate, visually capturing the city's gloomy outlook. Through its observational style, the film presents a unique and compelling perspective on America's current economic crisis.
This is a must see documentary.
If You Like This Film, You May Also Like:
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- Title: Detropia - 2011
- Directors: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
- U.S. Theatrical Premiere Date: September 7. 2012 (limited)
- Running Time: 91 mins.
- MPAA Rating: Not Rated
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents for content.
- Location: Detroit, Michigan
- Language: English
- Production Country: USA
- Production Company: Loki Films
- Official Website