Those Detroit documentaries – what’s out there?
In the last post I promised to take you through the fifty or so documentaries that have been produced on Detroit in the last five years. I’m a man of my word so here goes….
Abandonment. This figures strongly in A City to Yourself and Detroit Wild City. It’s in the experimental I Pity the Fool too. Specific places are covered in Brewster Douglass, You’re My Brother and The Last Shift (Packard plant).
Agriculture. Key work includes Grown in Detroit, Undoing Racism in the Detroit Food System, Urban Roots, From Glasgow to Detroit, Lean Mean and Green, Seeds of progress, and Scars in the Garden. It’s also mentioned in DIY Manifesto and We Are Not Ghosts.
Arts. There is a series on the DIA while Detroit Art City covers the 2012 property tax campaign. Art in People Mover stations and a DMC Hospital are there too. You can watch a dance company put through its paces ahead of opening night.
Community activism. American Revolutionary profiles 99-year old Grace Lee Boggs (activist, thinker and founder of youth project ‘Detroit Summer’).
Disappearance: The life and disappearance of Detroit-based labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa is addressed in Killing Jimmy Hoffa.
Economy. When Bubbles Burst looks at how investing in securitized US sub-prime mortgages hit a small Norwegian town. Two doc’s are comparative studies with other towns – After the Factory (Lodz, Poland) and I Have Always Been A Dreamer (Dubai, UAE).
Education. Work includes Dan Rather’s National Disgrace: Detroit’s Public Schools and Our School, which focuses on life in three city high schools. I loved a 10-minute short on a west-side school in an inter-school neighborhood planning competition.
Mixed overviews. Several accounts – Requiem for Detroit?, Bankruptcy of a Symbol, Detropia (long-listed for an Oscar), Dream in Ruins and Gangs, Rap, Auto industry (both in French) – chart socio-economic decline but also look for signs of hope.
Motown and other vintage music. Alongside Sugar Man, other old-school takes include From Motown to the Stooges and The Grande Ballroom Story. There’s even an account on Motown and downtown renaissance from (reformed perm) Michael Bolton.
Optimism. Detroit Lives, The Great Detroit, Lemonade: Detroit, Motor City Rising, Detroit in Overdrive, Redefining Dreamland, Detroit’s Rising (by urbanism guru Richard Florida) and Street Fighting Man all major in on people trying to make a go of things.
Organized Crime: Notable here are: Detroit Mob Confidential, Motown Mafia (narcotics kingpins in the 69-75 period) and The T Stuckey Story (the rise and fall of the founder of a hip-hop record label).
Politics. Bankrupt and a 60 Minutes special focus on the bankruptcy while Kwame The Untold Story unpicks the former’s mayor’s fall. Charlie Le Duff’s 2009 – The Movie and 2012 – The Movie satirically put politicians and public services under the microscope.
Population. Reversing Blue Flight looks at how rule changes saw a movement of police officers to live in the suburbs. The main focus however is on Mayoral efforts to lure them back.
Security. Detroit Threat Management tells an inside view of the well-known private security firm on the city’s riverside.
Techno has had lots of documentaries. Amongst the most recent are: Real Scenes: Detroit, Underground Resistance, The Electronic Music Festival and Girls Gone Vinyl (imminent). Lords of Detroit also mentions it in its short on youth music.
Urban Planning. Detropia, Detroit Works 2.0, and a PBS documentary all look at former Mayor Bing’s Detroit Works plan that sought to move people from blighted neighborhoods to stronger ones. The 2001 Sprawling of America is dated, but informative.
Water. The impact of water privatization on residents in Highland Park is the subject of Water Front.
If there’s nothing there for you then not to worry – maybe you just don’t ‘do’ documentaries. If you’ve seen them all (confession: I haven’t), well then there’s some good ‘shorts’ here that you might have missed.
In the third and final post I’ll look at how Detroit reflects on its portrayal in documentaries and at possible subjects for new work.