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Stateside: Film festival shines spotlight on Detroit

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People are making a lot of movies about Detroit these days. More than 60 of those films will be screened this weekend at an outdoor film festival in Detroit's Perrien Park.

Organizers hope to spark conversation about how Detroit is seen by Michiganders, and the rest of the world. 

25 hours, 15 minutes and 45 seconds of film, documentaries and music videos - all about Detroit.

“It’s kind of wild how many [films] have been made in the last 3 or 4 years...I wasn’t aware it was on this scale,” said filmmaker Nicole Macdonald.

She was born and raised in Detroit. Her documentary A City to Yourself will be in the festival.

A lot of the films are what you’d expect. There are stories of abandonment, stories about crime, but there are also films about Detroit’s pride, and there's some of the bizarre side of the city.                 

The film festival is all of these images put together in one place.

Lets talk about it

Anya Sirota is an Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. And she’s one of the festival’s organizers.

“We’ve sort of made a cocktail, but we don’t know what it’s going to taste like,” Sirota said.

She says the event is kind of like a neighborhood block party, with some movies, food and music. But, instead of DJ’s - they’ll have discourse jockeys - who move around the crowd getting conversation going about the images people are seeing.

“We’ve put in some ingredients we’ve invited some people, they all have different perspectives. We don’t know what the result in conversation is going to be,” Sirota said.

This whole idea started because international filmmakers from Paris and London where coming in to make movies about the city, but Detroiters weren’t getting to see them.

“Detroit is such a mirror that reflects back what one wants to see,” said Mireille Roddier, an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Michigan.

“And in that sense the productions that come from California are so very optimistic. Reflections that come from Europe are obsessed with the fall of capitalism in the most predictable way. The reflections that come from Detroiters are very much about pride,” she said.

Collecting data

But the festival organizers are not just going to watch the movies. As architects and urban designers, they’re going mine those films for data. They want to know who’s making those images, what parts of the city are represented most, and what kind of city do those movies reflect.

James Chesnut is an architecture graduate student at the University of Michigan.

“We want the community to see how their city has been represented through both locals and international voices and faces,” he said. He’s also my partner, by the way.

Like the other organizers of the festival he doesn’t know if residents are going to show up. But there is at least one local who’ll be there. Ralph Laviolette lives near Detroit’s eastside. He says movies about Detroit matter.

“I think what they see and what they take pictures of are reality. And this is just the way it is….But a lot of us, don’t want to accept the truth,” said Laviolette.

The film festival, Imaging Detroit runs Friday through Saturday in Detroit's Perrien Park.

Support for arts and cultural reporting on Michigan Radio comes in part from a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

There are two ways you can podcast "Stateside with Cynthia Canty"

Mercedes Mejia is a producer and director of Stateside.
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