The wrapup that is the weekend at Traverse City Film Festival will get fleshed out in muiltiple parts. Part one seems to be the most relavant as it relates directly to Detroit and the film that everyone wants to see: DETROPIA. I was fortunate enough to check it out on Saturday at the festival. A filmmaker sitting next to me who had seen my film “After the Factory” looked at me right after the credits rolled. “So you hated it, right?”
First, no, you shouldn’t hate it. Really. Second, it’s not the whole story of Detroit. Third, it might make you angry in some parts– senseless jabs at community gardening and urban farming, a very familiar look at the city’s problems, very little theoretical discussion about future possibility– but that’s OK. Fourth, the film’s strongest asset is how it contextualizes Detroit’s problems relative to the rest of the country and our “system” at large. DETROPIA is a social commentary on the failures of capitalism as told through the story of Detroit. And honestly, if there’s one narrative that should come out of the city, I believe it should be about Detroit’s position as the epic failure of the American Dream and the countless possibilities that position affords in re-inventing the whole system from the ground up. Let the reality of our position not be a means to an end, but rather the beginning of a much larger, more progressive long term vision.
I’ve said it countless times– literally, probably a hundred on this blog alone– but Detroit’s oppportunity resides as the laboratory for thinking about next-generation cities. And when you see DETROPIA, the problems that the entire country is suffering from are presented through the prism of Detroit. Less in a “THESE ARE DETROIT PROBLEMS! THIS PLACE IS A SHITHOLE!” and more in a “These problems exist everywhere, probably most frequently/dramatically in Detroit,” and then it becomes the viewers inference that perhaps given that reality it could be the place that composes the brilliant change mechanism. Psychologists would be the first to tell you (I am reminded most of the RD Laing book “The Politics of Experience“) that the extent to which you lead a fulfilled existence relies solely on the degree to which you have experienced. Translation: success depends solely on what you’ve gone through. Detroit, well, let’s see, it’s a city that has gone through more than the average place, so let’s treat that experience as an asset.
And herein lies my excitement about Detroit: Let’s start treating this place as ground zero for a new system. The city has no money, and therefore must attack problems in unique ways out of necessity. In turn, those bootstrapped solutions become actions that virtually anyone can mimic. The result: scalable innovation. Let’s start thinking about ourselves as solutions exporters, because, well, we’ve gone through practically everything. We can talk from experience.
Forget the past– honestly, the way we’ve been doing it as a country politically and economically, has led us here. We need bold new ideas. Big new ideas. The Occupy Movement is happening for a reason! Things need to change. The revolution is coming, so as Detroit, let’s be at the forefront of that re-invention of values. We need to start thinking of our city as that player. The issue then becomes getting the general public to see that reality via the images of cities across the country– which is something that DETROPIA does not do, but that the viewer can infer by reading the daily news in virtually any city across the country on their own time.
DETROPIA says one thing very well: The system is f*#@$d, it needs to change. That message is most clearly substantiated through the perils of Detroit. So, as a viewer, specifically one from this city, take that message as the beginning of our battle cry. Use this film as a motive and driving force, and suddenly DETROPIA becomes part of a larger effort to be at forefront of envisioning next-generation cities rather than feeling like another strike at the dead horse that everyone else seems to be taking.
Note: DETROPIA took the Jury Prize at the festival over the weekend, a very significant distinction.