Detropia is the best film I saw at Sundance. Formally, it is clear, beautifully-composed and edited; inventive in its use of color (I think painterly is the word I want to use); and, ingeniously scored by the Detroit Opera and Motown. The cinematography assumes Detroit’s grandeur in the 20th century rather than its decline in the 21st – tracking shots of architectural and civic pride remind us poignantly of Detroit’s, and by extension, our collective American past. The powerhouse directorial team of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (pictured above), have a sure hand – their ambition and clarity of thought are supported by their formal prowess. The scope of the film is also astounding – culture, politics, race, class, economics, art, love, and globalization, may be uneasy neighbors in Detroit, but in terms of the film’s formal choices, they sit easily next to each other as in a group portrait. I would equally enjoy this film without the titles and the interviews.
The decline of Detroit (and, by extension, many great American cities) makes for a depressing, if timely, subject, and the filmmakers do not spare us its depth and reach. But the film’s visual composition reminds us, happily, of the city’s history, grace, and most of all, the dignity of its citizens. In this film Detroit defies us to feel sorry for it; as perfectly illustrated by the scenes with the autoworkers’ union, it will persevere in one way or another.