Greetings again from the darkness. Admittedly, I am tough on documentaries. My expectations are quite high. After all, documentary filmmakers need not be burdened with fluffy entertainment requirements. Instead, they can tell a story, debate an issue, or expose a wrong. Wasted opportunities annoy me.
Have you heard anything about the economic hardships in the city of Detroit? Of course you have. It’s been a story for more than two decades. So a documentary “exposing” the hardships in Detroit should at least offer a different perspective, debate options, or discuss the challenges of progress. Otherwise, it’s a wasted opportunity, which is what we have here.
The film is beautifully photographed and very well put together. It lacks only a reason to exist. The film comes from co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Oscar nominated for Jesus Camp. This one is a clump of different pieces that don’t fit and provide little insight. We get a clueless local union president who is clinging to the past and offering no help to his constituents. We get some obscure video blogger whose main credentials seem to be that she lives in Detroit and has her own camera (and can climb in a window). We get a couple of guys sitting on a front porch cracking wise of any efforts by local officials to develop solutions.
There seems to have been a very narrow focus on choosing who to interview. At least Tommy Stevens, a local bar owner, is an interesting guy to follow around. He holds out hope that GM will open a Chevy Volt plant and spur business at his club, so he can re-hire his cook. His hopes are dashed when he attends a local auto show and finds out that China offers an electric car at a significantly lower price than Chevy. He recalls the days that stubborn US automakers refused to acknowledge upstart Honda in the US.
We are offered brief glimpses into some type of town hall meeting and the absolute rejection by the union of the “final” offer from American Axle. We are shown a few clips from inside the Detroit Opera, which the Big 3 automakers continue to finance. Lastly, we are introduced to a couple of young artists, who are part of a growing trend of relocations to inner city Detroit to take advantage of the low housing costs.
All of the above are interesting enough, but again, it’s been two decades and we already know this stuff. We only get one angry lady spouting off about Mayor Dave Bing’s seemingly appropriately creative idea of consolidating the outlying areas into a smaller geographic area, so the city can provide services for its citizens and start the process of healing and growing. Her reason for bashing the idea? She doesn’t want to move.
There seem to be two real issues worth analyzing. First is the unwillingness of so many to accept that change has already occurred … so fighting change is a lost cause. Your city is broke. No need to make things worse. Secondly, looking into the true cause of the downturn could lead to interesting discussions of greed. Corporate greed as well as the greed of the people. The Chinese can make a car (and electronics, etc) so much cheaper because they are not holding on to our standard of living. Detroit has been called the birthplace of the middle class, but just what is that definition today? These are some of the discussions that need to be had. One more look at houses being torn down and empty hotels … all with the shiny GM towers in the background … is just a re-hash of what we already know. So yes, the wasted opportunity has me annoyed.
**Note: this film made the cut down list to 15 for documentaries under consideration for the Academy Award.
watch the trailer: