Hot Docs Festival 2012: A review of Detropia, a fascinating look at a truly American city

In 1930, Detroit, Michigan was the fastest-growing city in the world. Today, it’s the fastest-shrinking, with an employment rate somewhere around 50%. Some are saying that what’s happened in Detroit (a devastating collapse of the local economy due to the disappearance of its main industrial pillars) will happen to the rest of America in time.

But Detroit was also the birthplace of Motown, and the city has unbelievable soul and character. Detropia really feels like a rare glimpse into the current state of things, focusing on what most journalists, photographers and documenters miss, either because they are too afraid to get this close and personal, or are afraid it interrupts the down-and-out narrative.

Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady follow a female Detroit-native blogger and barista, the Mayor of the city, a retired school teacher and blues bar owner, leader of the United Auto Workers union, and artists & students buying $20,000 houses and moving into abandoned neighbourhoods. All of these subjects tell the stories of their Detroit. 

The doc has beautiful, creative visuals, a perfect soundtrack and an informative view of the genesis of the city. Despite a mass exodus of families moving away, there is a small population of artists and students moving to Detroit who are drawn to the cheap living and space to create, which makes for a very interesting scene. Part of the focus of the doc is telling the story of the mistakes American car corporations have made by moving plants to Mexico and China. The affect it’s had on the citizens comes through, and it’s very sad. What once built up a city has come crashing down, and who will save Detroit? Maybe the artists. 

I give this film 5 rusty Ford cars out of 5

Detropia screens Saturday, May 5th at 5:45 pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Rush only.

~ Becca Lemire

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