Does Detroit get a bad rap? First-time filmmaker Anthony Brogdon thinks so, and wants to set the record straight. His upcoming documentary, "The Great Detroit," takes a panoramic look at the city's history, scenery and people with the explicit intent of emphasizing the positive.
Fireworks, Henry Ford, puppets, Midtown's Noel Night, hydroplanes and a century-old hat shop are just a few of the topics that Brogdon explores in his 90-minute film. The project, which features dozens of interviews, has been in production for over a year and should be complete by early autumn.
The Huffington Post reached out to Brogdon to find out why a business man with a background importing promotional merchandise undertook a quest to shed some sunlight on the Motor City.
Detroit's been a popular subject for documentaries lately. Some of them focus on the city's urban gardening movement and art scene, others on its economic decline. What makes yours unique?
"The Great Detroit" examines Detroit in broad terms and not just one specific industry. It's 100% positive. We cover the business, social services, religious, education, medical, arts, recreation, technology and more. We highlighted some of Detroit's nationally known annual events. We have footage of Detroit's downtown, midtown, business districts, parks, neighborhoods, and riverfront. We cited many little known facts, important historical moments, and offer many inspiring comments by Detroiters. It's like a 90 minute commercial.
Why do you think there's a so much of a negative media focus on Detroit?
Some of the negative media focus is warranted because Detroit has declined from its status as the country's fifth-largest city, which is probably the largest drop in population of all urban cities in the country. It's not the manufacturing powerhouse it once was with so much U.S. owned manufacturing being done internationally, and our city has lost a large diverse cultural community. Plus, Detroit does have a high crime rate. Detroit is majority African-American which, in the minds of media people, deems it a candidate for such negative attention.
Some people say that Detroit's image has changed over the last few years into something of a sympathetic scrappy underdog. Chrysler's "Imported From Detroit" ads would be one example of this. I've also spoken with an entrepreneur who said one of the reasons he's opening a bicycle factory in the city is because Detroit has brand appeal. What are your thoughts on this?
I would agree that the country knows that the media has beaten up on Detroit for a long time, which has given our city the underdog perspective; however, at the same time people who really know Detroit know that Detroit isn't as bad as the media portrays, that Detroit is still recognized as a major city, that Detroit is home to the automobile industry, Motown music, Kronk boxing, electronic music and partner to our international neighbor Canada. People were happy to see the Chrysler commercials which exclaimed a pride about Detroit to the world.
What's your relationship with the city of Detroit?
I am a native Detroiter, graduate of its Detroit Public School system and a resident for all but 5 years of my life when I lived in Atlanta.
What did you discover about the city while making the film?
I discovered that Detroit has a rich history and that it's internationally recognized. Detroit's rich history includes being a major player in the war for United States independence, for being at the forefront for mass production, in professional sports having the original franchise that make up the National Football League, National Hockey Association and Major League Baseball, for in the arts being considered the birthplace for puppet theater, for being the birthplace for Kiwanis International and more. Understandably, Detroit is known for being the automobile capital and for Motown but, on an international level, Detroit is known for being the birthplace for electronic music and is recognized for hosting hydroplane boat and speed car racing among other things.
Who were the most intriguing interview subjects you spoke with and why?
In "The Great Detroit" we interview over 40 people and each have an intriguing story; however, I found many little known facts.. In the interview with a former commodore of the Detroit Yacht Club, that the land the club sits on is man-made; or in the interview with the owner of Henry the Hatter, how his business has survived over 100 years; or in the interview with the founder of Mosaic Youth Group, how talented many Detroit kids are and their quest for perfection. Or in the interview with a Belle Isle historian, how the island is the only urban recreational island in the country, and how the U.S. army forces conducted training exercises on the beach front.
While your movie clearly strives to accentuate the positives about Detroit, the city is certainly facing its share of difficulties right now. Are there thoughts about the city's economic and political woes that you'd like to share?
My documentary in 100% positive. So even though we shot footage of many of Detroit neighborhoods, we don't show images of the blight or, when interviewing the director of a soup kitchen, we didn't film while they were feeding those in need nor do we comment on the political missteps that have happened recently. My personal view about the woes you mention is that its unfortunate, that economically the city has had many setbacks mainly due to the automobile industry decline and the influx of foreign products and the political woes were by people who initially had the best intentions.
Tell us about strongdetroit.net.
Strongdetroit.net is a website that will become an online magazine to report only positive news stories, be a sounding board for dialogue on various topics about Detroit, and the retail arm for Strong Detroit merchandise.
Your biography says you have a background in business and writing. How did you get into filmmaking?
I am new to filmmaking and "The Great Detroit" is my first attempt. The thought to do this documentary has two angles. One, I want to become a big independent filmmaker, and my first feature length will be a film titled "Foot Soldiers", a script I adapted from a play that I wrote and staged on several occasions. I already have written two other screenplays. Secondly, I thought that to get experience in filmmaking, a documentary would be a great place to start. I have been working on this film for over 14 months.
What sort of obstacles did you run into as a first time filmmaker?
I really didn't run into any obstacles doing this film. The State of Michigan has a website that lists people who work in every capacity needed to make a film; this gave me a list of contacts, Plus, there's a yahoo Michigan-based group specific to the film industry where I asked questions. If I would say that I have had any obstacles, it would be in raising money. I have personally financed the film to this point, and I now have a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.com/TheGreatDetroit.
Who helped you make the film?
Every person I have interviewed has helped me make this film for they believed enough to take the time to sit in front of the camera. My cameraman, Hugh Hatten, has been my biggest helper. He believed enough to make a deal on his fees enabling me to afford his services. My production crew is just the two of us. I direct and hold the boom mic, and he films.
When will you be finished with the film?
I have interviewed roughly 26 of the expected 40 people on my list, plus I have shot much of the supplemental footage and have edited as I go. I expect to finish the film within the next 45 days.
Where will people be able to see it?
There will be many opportunities for people to see my film, I hope to have a huge premier hopefully held at the Detroit Institute of Arts, it will be a red carpet, spotlight, fundraiser for some nonprofits. Then a weekend of showings at a local theater, screenings in local, national, and international film festivals. I'll have DVDs distributed through various gift and convenience shops throughout the metro Detroit area, and finally there will be some YouTube shorts on my channel Strong Detroit.
Anything else people should know about the movie?
This film is going to show the world another side of Detroit and I guarantee it will make Detroiters proud.
The 27-minute documentary "Brewster Douglass, You're My Brother," premiered in May 2012. In it, filmmaker Oren Goldenberg and journalist Paul Abowd delve into the history of the shuttered Brewster-Douglass housing projects in Detroit and their current status. Built in 1935, the Brewster Homes housing development built for African Americans.
"Street Fighting Man" is scheduled to be released in fall of 2012. In June, filmmakers raised more than $20,000 with a Kickstarter campaign for post-production costs. The documentary follows three men in three generations trying to change their lives and communities.
The documentary "Deforce: America's Past. America's Future. Detroit's Present," by native metro Detroiters Andrew Rodney and Daniel Falconer, premiered in March 2012. The film looks at how the city's political history has affected its current state.
In "After the Factory," which premiered in February 2012, director Philip Lauri examined the similar challenges facing Detroit and the post-industrial city of Lodz, Poland, and how residents are dealing with them.
The film "BURN: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit" showed at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2012. Directors Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez documented the work of firefighters on Detroit's east side and tell a story of the city in the process.
In "Lemonade: Detroit," Boston filmmaker Erik Proulx tells the personal stories of Detroiters. The film is in production, and Proulx is crowdsourcing financing by selling producer credits for $1 a frame.
In "Detropia," directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (of Oscar-winning "Jesus Camp") document Detroit's "rise and fall (and rise again?)."The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2012, and the filmmakers decided to release it themselves, raising more than $70,000 with a Kickstarter campaign.
In "Detroit Threat Management," filmmaker Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman follows the private security company. The film is in production and is planned for a fall 2012 release.
"Urban Roots," a 2011 documentary directed by Mark MacInnis, documents urban farming in the city.
French filmmaker Florent Tillon's "Detroit Wild City" premiered in 2010.
"Detroit Lives," released in 2010 by Palladium Boots, highlights positive things in Detroit, as well as Johnny Knoxville.
Norwegian documentary filmmakers Mascha and Manfred Poppenk made "Grown in Detroit" about urban gardening at Catherine Ferguson Academy.
In "Searching for Sugar Man," Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul examines the epic search of two South Africans to track down Sixto Rodriguez, an elusive musician who has become a legendary figure in their country while living a life of humble obscurity in Detroit. Ironically, the film has helped the singer gain increased exposure and artistic recognition in the United States.