From Motown to Ghost Town – Detroit Wild City

No, this isn’t the name of a band. Don’t let this new doc (dir. by Florent Tillon) fall off the radar screen. It played at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Then it turned up at Karlovy Vary, in the documentary competition. The rumor was that Detroit Ville Sauvage had the immediate effect of cutting visa applications from the Czech Republic to the US in half. Who said films didn’t matter?

The title of Florent Tillon’s meditative film suggests science fiction. Think instead of a post-apocalyptic documentary inMichael Moore country, more than 20 years beyond Roger & Me. Back then, there was enough outrage about auto plant closings to quicken the pace and fuel the pursuit of the GM CEO who wouldn’t talk to Moore. Now, after twenty years, the place seems to have gone numb. Don’t forget that Jack Kevorkian came from around here.

Not just the factories are empty in Motown. So are the streets. (Fortunately a plan by former mayor Coleman Young to sell off the art from the Detroit Art Institute was halted.) And at least the jails are full. One celebrity prisoner is another former mayor who put his girlfriend on the payroll, and took a lot more from the tiny budget that remains for the city’s poor.

Despite Obama’s GM bail-out, so many buildings have been gone for so long  — the city demolished 3200 homes just last year –that some remaining residents are practicing subsistence farming on huge tracts of  terre sauvage in what had been one of the world’s most productive (and dangerous) industrial cities. From ghetto to grassland? You can just imagine the toxins underground.  Maybe they’ll turn it into a military testing ground. Michigan is desperate enough to be offering rebates of near 50% for films that are shot there – a huge amount when it came under discussion in the Czech Republic, which is desperate to lure back the foreign productions that are now going to Hungary, Rumania and Slovakia. The grim news at Karlovy Vary was that Collaborator, the directorial debut of actor Martin Donovan, was shot across the straits from Michigan in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

The silver lining is that Detroit’s mayor, Dave Bing, a former NBA star, is now proposing to pay artists to live in the city – if they dare.


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