SFIFF – Detroit Wild City
Ruins have captivated my imagination since I was a child, for reason that shouldn’t need to be explained. They’re mysterious, and a bit sad, bursting to tell their stories, but unable to do so. I didn’t consider the idea of modern ruins until I was an adult. I now find them equally as intriguing, if not more so. With these factors in mind, it’s easy to understand why Detroit is such an interesting city. It truly is becoming an abandoned city. Quite a while ago, Time magazine published a photo essay on Detroit created by two French photographers that only whet my appetite for more information about the situation. The essay is haunting, and informative, and a bit shocking. The subject was just begging for a documentary.
Enter Florent Tillon, a French filmmaker. His film, Detroit Wild City attempts to put a face on the hopeless situation of Motor City. For a while, he succeeds. But mostly, he doesn’t.
Detroit Wild City focuses partly on the empty buildings, the abandoned homes getting overrun with weeds, the massive exodus of people leaving the place. But he mostly highlights people that are choosing to stay there. It’s unclear what Tillon was trying to say with the subjects he choose to stick with the longest. They are, for the most part, strange and jaded folks. Some of them have hope that America will reconsider Detroit as an important city. Some are angry they’re stuck in the dying city. And some are just trying to help the their situation in any way they can. But these subjects seem incongruous with the film’s tone and purpose.
One man, an employee of the city’s pet population control, is happy to speak to the camera while he’s on his way to deal with a dangerous stray dog situation (the film suggest there are as many as 100,000 stray dogs in the city), but progressively gets angrier as tells of a time he went to central America to study snakes. It’s off subject and irrelevant, like I found much of the movie to be.
But besides the lack of a clear focus, Tillon had a great opportunity to expose a rare phenomenon happening in our very own country. I wanted facts. I wanted to hear statistics about how many people are leaving a day. What’s the unemployment rate? What percentage of the skyline we’re shown over and over is empty or will be empty. None of these subjects were discussed. The documentary is lacking in these areas, and frankly, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know. To be honest, I took much more away from Time’s photo essay.
Tillon did manage to capture some beautiful, and haunting images. There are reminders of what can happen to anyone anywhere. What’s happening to detroit would be interesting to watch on any screen. But Detroit Wild City doesn’t deliver any of the goods I was hoping for.