The Detroit Journal isn't a reincarnation of the city's first newspaper, it isn't a journal and it isn't about Detroit as a city proper. Which is why you're really going to want to check it out.
A new project from zealously energetic filmmaker Andy Miller, the Detroit Journal is an ongoing video project that will highlight stories of people in the Detroit area, finding and sharing tales from long-time city residents.
"There's so many awesome characters and people in Detroit who don't get cameras," Miller said. "And they have tremendous stories."
Miller and cofounder Ben Potter plan to release an ambitious once-monthly film on their website. Miller is interested in looking beyond the stories he sees in the news and plans to steer clear of topics that have been covered extensively in other Detroit documentaries. He sees many recent Detroit-centric films as focusing either on the city's resurgence or neglect, rather than its people.
"At least [in] the ones I've seen, very familiar faces keep coming up -- the same people keep talking about the same things," Miller said. "There's a huge movement about 'New Detroit,' and that's awesome, but there's a lot of coverage on it."
Likewise, he wants to stay away from what he calls the "gloom," saying it's almost too easy to tell the story of Detroit's decline through moving images. He concedes the first episode of the Detroit Journal does show one abandoned building, but it's in the background of a shot that's meaningful for other reasons.
Miller rattled off subjects he would like to feature, from an overnight security guard at the Detroit Institute of Arts to someone who drives a snowplow. But the Detroit Journal's first episode, "William Foster Is a Good Man," premiering Wednesday, is more personal.
Miller met Foster six years ago and learned of the latter's drug addiction, homelessness and numerous jail sentences. The two men eventually lost touch, but as the idea for the Detroit Journal was formulating last summer, Miller got a call from his old friend.
Foster had a new story, one of a near-fatal accident that led to recovery, and it profoundly affected Miller. He decided to feature Foster in the first episode of the Detroit Journal. In the film, Foster speaks directly to the camera about his experiences.
"I was really nervous to show him," Miller said. "It's very personal ... I didn't really pull any punches."
But hearing directly from Detroiters -- whether the news is good or bad -- is the spirit of the project.
"He's just a guy, but his story is kind of incredible," Miller said. "Any one of us could have ended up like William Foster and wouldn't have made it through."
Miller dropped out of Northern Michigan University when he realized he would have to wait until junior year to start making movies. Instead, he got his education from Specs Howard School of Media Arts in Southfield and the New York Film Academy.
Miller has worked with filmmakers in the area and has a day job at the advertising agency Team Detroit. But he's the last man standing from his old movie community; many of his friends have moved to California to work in the film industry.
Miller, however, plans to stay in Michigan.
"Nonfiction is more interesting," he said. "There's a need for it here."
"William Foster Is a Good Man," the first episode of the Detroit Journal, will premiere Wednesday, Jan. 25 at Detroit's newest (and onliest) letterpress studio, Signal Return, 1345 Division Street #102, Detroit. The event starts at 7 p.m. and also includes a showing of 4exit4's "Nine Businesses" and music from Oak Bones and Patrick Fitzgibbon's steel drum and jazz band.
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