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Reviewing the Reviews of the Detropia Reviews: Now with Review Recap Capacity

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1. No, we have not seen the film. Loki Films said there were no media previews in Detroit.

2. A lot of other people have! This includes Alec Baldwin.

3. In absence of our own review, we sought out someone that attended the private screening at the Detroit Opera House which was for 25-30 "influential locals." Our source said they all hated it, complained, and made the filmmakers defensive. Another viewer from that screening called it "The Road" meets "Roger and Me."

4. Deadline Detroit reviewed our review of that person's review, and found a dissenting opinion! Karla Henderson, the city’s “Planning and Facilities Group Executive,” says the film showed a side of Detroit that exists but is too often ignored. That article concluded that this movie will make boosters uncomfortable, but that the film is important for "reminding us of realities that’d we just assume ignore."

5. On this day, Detropia is being screened at the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival. If you know someone in Israel that wants to dish, tell them to email detroit@curbed.com. You would think that might be all there is to say about a film we have not seen. And you would be right.

6. However now it is Intrepid Intern Daniel's turn! He steps in to help you make sense of this media circus by recapping the reviews he has read this far. His basic assessment? You have seen this movie before, but it probably wasn’t as pretty.


We might be just as confused by our headline as you are, so here is an abbreviated version of everything you missed if you have not been following the story about us following the documentary Detropia. We've surveyed the Internet peanut gallery to find out what people thought of everyone's favorite opia at different festivals where it’s been screened. It seems that if you’ve got a Detroit documentary or three under your belt, the things likely to stand out as this film’s strengths are “the visuals” and “the characters”— its weakness is described as a lack of historical context. The conclusion is either ambiguous or, as perceived by many Detroiters, negative Nancy. The pacing may also be a little slow. If you’re not a Detroit resident who spends most of your time in the middle of your own personal Detroit documentary, you will wonder how it applies to your own city. Review excerpts ahoy!

1. Caroline Libresco is a feature film programmer for the Sundance Film Festival. The producers use a clip from her for the synopsis on their website:

"With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, DETROPIA sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. As houses are demolished by the thousands, automobile-company wages plummet, institutions crumble, and tourists gawk at the “charming decay," the film’s vibrant, gutsy characters glow and erupt like flames from the ashes." 2. There was sold-out showing at Hot Docs in Toronto last Saturday, but a Canadian reviewer for the Globe and Mail did not urge Detroit locals to attend. That the film is the “apotheosis of ruin porn” seems to be the takeaway from the brief review.

"...visually striking but languid film... filled with startling images and facts but it’s overly long and, aside from a brief shot of the 1967 riot, lacks historic context: Doughnut Detroit suffered from hollowing out decades before the automakers’ bankruptcies in 2009." 3. If you’re looking to take a jaunt over an Ocean and several Seas for your Detropia viewing, there’s still time to catch a screening in Tel Aviv on the 11th. The DOCAVIV shpiel gives us the same visuals-and-characters focus:
“With a dreamy yet melancholic gaze, Sundance U.S. Documentary Editing Award winner “Detropia” wanders along the abandoned urban and industrial architecture, and follows local protagonists who still believe in the future of a city that keeps diminishing.” 4. At the Sarasota Film Festival the review oohed and aahed over the visuals and the characters, before asking whether this industrial collapse thing they’ve heard so much about might be catching:
“Detropia” is a beautiful film, or as beautiful of a film about the rapidly declining ghost town that was once the fastest growing city in the world can be... Each character is hopeful, but is captured in a way to show a dismal fear they carry about the city they love. The film collages beautiful sequences of filming that give the grave and ghostly quality of Detroit a beautiful feeling? ...it poses the question: Is Detroit an isolated tragedy, or can this happen to an entire nation? 5. The local context angle also appeared at the Cleveland International Film Festival, where organizers seem to have focused more on the people and concept’s application to Cleveland than the pretty images. Producer Craig Atkinson showed up to say a few words:

Atkinson shares that Detroit consists of “amazingly unique individuals.” He explains, “If we dug deep to find the right people a film would emerge that would remind the nation of Detroit’s resilience despite having been pushed aside.” Atkinson hopes that Cleveland viewers, after seeing “Detropia,” will see the scale of the issues that Detroit faces. ‘[Maybe] Cleveland can see opportunities with it’s more manageable size.”

6. At the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, MO, reviewers focused as much on the film’s lack of a clear resolution and nonlinear storytelling as on the visuals-and-characters business.

Detropia, too, seems to be a tale with no specific hold on the past, present or future... The film jumps back and forth through time; it weaves together the lives of several different residents? Detropia is a piecemeal story that continues to ask the same question: Will this city fall? The film’s imagery is powerful... The film delivers a sense of the city in a powerful way; it leaves an impression that sticks with you long after your seat is vacant. Viewers hoping to see some sort of resolution to this tale will find themselves disappointed?. It can be difficult to place Detropia’s time frame, as it does not follow a chronological set. The film creates an impressionistic dreamscape for viewers to decipher on their own terms. Its imagery is haunting at times? The characters are completely relatable, and their spark of humor and life continues to surprise.

If this film is in fact as one-sidedly pessimistic about the city as our local reviewers suggested, our run through the film festival review circuit suggests that at least it will be the most visually striking half-empty glass you’ve ever seen.

Update! Review recapping just got more bleak. The Atlantic Cities is saying the film is "an undeniably uncomfortable story, especially for those who believe a renewed Motor City is already on its way." But the real kick in the pants to boosters is here:

Detropia argues that whatever good is emerging in Detroit is not yet capable of stopping the city's spectacular collapse. Instead, the documentary braces us for an urban tragedy yet to be completed. As an aside, we are wondering what popcorn flavor goes best with city collapse.

· Detropia may not be the film Detroit wants, but it might be the film we need [Deadline Detroit]
· Oh Opia No! Why 25 Detroiters Hated The Film Detropia [Curbed Detroit]
· There Are 16 Detroit Doc Films: Alec Baldwin Has Seen One [Curbed Detroit]
· DetropiaWire; "Suburb" Becomes Verb; Real Estate Swingers [Curbed Detroit]
· Reviewing the Reviews of the Detropia Debut at Sundance [Curbed Detroit]
· The Times Gets Back In Touch With the Gritty Detroit Grit [Curbed Detroit]