From the Academy Award-nominated directors of Jesus Camp, Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady, Detropia premiered September 7 and is showcased in select theaters across the country.
Detroit’s story has encapsulated the iconic narrative of America over the last century— the Great Migration of African Americans escaping Jim Crow; the rise of manufacturing and the middle class; the love affair with automobiles; the flowering of the American dream; and now . . . the collapse of the economy and the fading American mythos. With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, DETROPIA sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. These soulful pragmatists and stalwart philosophers strive to make ends meet and make sense of it all, refusing to abandon hope or resistance. Their grit and pluck embody the spirit of the Motor City as it struggles to survive postindustrial America and begins to envision a radically different future.
The New Yorker’s David Denby says, “Detropia, a lyrical film about the destruction of a great American city, is the most moving documentary I’ve seen in years.”
It has its share of forlorn images the office buildings with empty eye sockets for windows; the idle, rotting factories with their fantastic networking of chutes, pipes, and stacks. Yet the filmmakers, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (who comes from Detroit), are so attuned to color and shape that they have made a beautiful film. We’re looking at new ruins, American ruins the remains of industrial ambition, a kind of impromptu graveyard of capitalism and the survivors, hanging on, exhibit a mix of awed mournfulness and good cheer. The city’s history is evoked by such chroniclers and guides as George McGregor, a warmly sympathetic union veteran; Crystal Starr, a young video blogger, who breaks into abandoned buildings and installs herself in offices now trashed and empty, as if she had worked there years ago; and Tommy Stephens, a former teacher, who warns of revolution if the middle class continues to be eviscerated. At the end, as young people move in to claim the cheap real estate, the movie hints at a fresh surge of capitalist ebullience and a possible revival.