Detropia – Movie Review

The film is set in a grim and desolate Detroit of 2010, in a crumbling neighborhood that is mostly empty, where grass and trees have overtaken what used to be an inner city neighborhood.   It’s unkempt and sad, and receives little in the way of municipal help.  

Few streetlights work and the residents are in constant danger from gangs and drug dealers.   Only one house on two or three blocks may be inhabited, the stores are long empty except for a handful run by old-timers.

Every twenty minutes we learn, someone moves out of Detroit.  Ninety to 100,000 homes are being demolished.  In the 30’s Detroit was America’s fastest growing city, today it is the fastest shrinking.   The population hasn’t been this low for a century.  The city has considered extreme measures like frog-marching everyone out and downtown into high density neighborhoods.  That’s not a popular idea among residents some of whom have lived there since the 30’s.

The problem is the economy and the city’s onetime main employer the car manufacturers are gone.  The hood we’re looking at is the backyard of what used to be the home of Detroit’s massive Cadillac and GM plants until they went bankrupt or sent operations to Mexico and more recently China.  We see a doomed union meeting during which defiant workers are asked once again to accept a pay cut. They refuse, and the plant is closed.  How could they not have seen that coming?  There are no other jobs around.

Strangely, the yuppies are moving into the area, where a thoroughly modernized loft can be bought for $25,000.  The new owners we meet are artists who could never afford to buy anywhere else.  Their view of the city features decaying backyards of rotten empty houses, and abandoned factories.  But for them, it’s a good start.

Warriors for the old glory abound.  There’s Crystal Starr, a video blogger who provides news of the area.  She attends city council meetings and tours through empty buildings like the once glorious Opera Building, now empty, covered in graffiti, a home for pigeons, and refuses to give up the fight.  A former school teacher who runs the only bar in town and observes his city collapse, and fights the good fight against that. 

He finds a hybrid Chinese car at the Detroit Auto Show, a competitor to the American car, which sells not for $40k., but for $20.  His protestations are ignored.   A talented opera singer rehearses in the empty shell of the Opera Building and on the subway where people run from him, not knowing these sounds he’s making.

This isn’t just Detroit as we well know.  This is a lot of the USA, where factories are closing at an alarming rate and the unemployed aren’t getting reemployed. There’s a suggestion that this isn’t a recession but a depression which it has felt like all along. 

Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady have taken a deeply disturbing real life story and made it understandable and recognizable.  They’ve spoken to the soldiers in the fight to save the area, and to those in charge.  It’s fair and balanced and their ending salvo – this is coming your way – sends shock waves.

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325 mm Documentary
Directed by Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Opens: Sept.9
Country: US
Language: English