The woes of Detroit are emblematic of the collapse of the U.S. manufacturing base. Is the Midwestern icon actually a canary in the American coal mine? DETROPIA is a cinematic tapestry of a city and its people who refuse to leave the building, even as the flames are rising.
When it comes to Detroit, not much can be said that has not already been said. The once great city has had a steady decline over the last century into one of the fastest shrinking cities in the United States. Back in the early days, Detroit was the most happening place in the world to the folks that lived there. A lack of jobs, corruption, faulty decisions and jobs being shipped out to other areas and countries are the primary reasons most often noted, and that description would actually fit most of America at this point and time. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the makers of the award winning “Jesus Camp” from several years ago, have decided to take on this documentary of the great Motown.
What new can they bring to the table? After watching this masterpiece of art and style, it becomes apparent that they have plenty to serve us from the streets of Detroit. Both Ewing and Grady are from Detroit and they utilize that background to capture the essence of this proud but crumbling city. Detroit will never give up. They have far too much toughness for things such as that.
Detropia is not the first to attempt to describe the Motor City and the struggles she is going through, but it might be the best. While others show the seedy side of Detroit and make us wince, Detropia shows us these things and makes us long for something. It makes us want to act on the visual beauty before us, despite the sad pictures that form the basis of the picture. The empty factories, buildings and work sites all form a picture that makes us want to get off the couch and do something about it. They are so artfully portrayed that you can literally feel the pride of Detroit echoing throughout the darkness of each abandoned building.
The documentary is haunting, yes, but it is also inspiring and beautiful in its own way. Most films of this nature have a political agenda to put out there. This film has no such thoughts. It simply puts Detroit out there for the masses and says “look at her floundering beauty” through their camera lens.
Detropia offers up some individuals to explain the history, as well as the current state of Detroit and they were careful to choose the right folks. Some documentaries serve up anyone that passes by the camera, but Detropia chooses and nice cross section of the city. All perspectives are allowed and explored to some degree, and the focus is clearly on giving the facts.
Blame is also absolutely absent in Detropia. Nobody goes around yelling racism as the reason for the downfall of Detroit. Nobody blames the auto industry outright. Nobody blames anyone outright. There is more a sense of all of the things that got them into this position in the first place. All of these things contributed, and the film simply lists them without judgment or explanation. This effectively allows the viewer to see things through their own personal lens, while still making the picture on screen pretty to look at.
Hope is explored mostly through the viewer’s own imagination, but it is easy to see if you watch the pulse of the city. You certainly see plenty of people down and out, but there are many others that are pushing for something more. The pride is still there, looking for a way to manifest. Detroit will come back and will thrive again.
Detropia sends all of these messages without having to speak at all. The images alone tell the story and tell it well. America knows what the images mean because we are all going through it on some level. Detropia is a brilliant film that deserves to be seen on a national and world wide stage.