'Detropia' makes debut at Sundance Film Festival this weekend

Jan 20, 2012

Yes, yes... there are a lot of abandoned buildings and sad reminders of better times in Detroit.

While some artists come to Detroit to gawk at the "ruin porn," as Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra has pointed out, the filmmakers of the new documentary "Detropia" say they hope people take away something other than a sense of awe at the decay.

Co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady say they want their audience to understand the people who stayed behind in Detroit:

"Initially when we went there, we were just looking for this Phoenix story. We were hoping that there were people on the ground there that were really just going to fix the place. But after spending a couple years filming there, and spending time with our characters we realized that was really just a very dishonest story," said Grady.

In a Detroit Free Press piece by Julie Hinds, Ewing explains further:

"Our intention is not that somebody point the finger and say, 'Man, Detroit's really got problems.' If that's what happens, then we've failed at our job," Ewing said this week. "We want people to say, 'Man, that's happening in my city, too. How did we let it go this far? What is our American identity when we've allowed a city to come to this point? And what are our priorities?'

"Really, we want the story of Detroit to boomerang back to the viewer and reflect upon what's going on around them and their part of the country."

Hinds writes that the film brings the reality of the global economy home to viewers and that the film "doesn't shrink from harsh realities.":

The villain of the piece could be the shift of manufacturing power from the U.S., where making things fueled the rise of the middle class, to countries such as Mexico and China, where the costs of producing goods can be much cheaper...

"Detroiters get it; they really get it," Ewing said. "They can articulate our place in the global food chain more than any people I've ever met, including most politicians."

In a piece written for the New York Times, Ewing and Grady explain, "We chose to focus our cameras on Detroit out of a gut feeling that this city — often heralded as the birthplace of the middle class — may well be a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the country."

Here's an edited promotional interview with the filmmakers: