Featured in the Detroit News today!
Since spring 2011, Nora Mandray and Hélène Bienvenu , two French filmmakers, have been working on “Detroit Je t’aime,” an interactive documentary about the city once known as “the Paris of the Midwest.” This is their story, as told by Mandray.
Bonjour, Detroit: Falling in love with a 300-year old city
I’m a French filmmaker and journalist. In 2009, I came to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship to do an MFA at UCLA film school, in Los Angeles. I discovered Detroit for the first time thanks to my boyfriend (and now fiancé), also a filmmaker, who’s originally from Okemos.
We came to spend New Year’s Eve in Detroit, to visit his best friend from college, who was then doing his Ph.D. at Wayne State. Little did I know that I’d become his neighbor in Woodbridge two years later.
What I saw during my short stay back then stuck with me. I swore I’d come back to make a film in the city.
I wasn’t aware of all the documentary hype that existed around Detroit at that time. Detroit is a very cinematic city, which explains why so many fiction and nonfiction films have been shot here, also driven by the film incentives that Michigan had been providing in recent years.
Detroit’s ruins are beautiful old buildings and the vacant lots each contain a story of their own. As cliché as it might sound, you just can’t help but reflect on the past when you pass by the Michigan Central Station.
Detroit’s ruins have also made me wonder what my role in the present can be.
Shortly after my first stay in Detroit, I started reading about the city’s history while I was enrolled in a documentary class at UCLA. The more I’d discovered, the more I got fascinated. When I found out that Detroit had been founded by a Frenchman, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, in 1701, that was it!
I was inspired to make “Detroit je t’aime” (“Detroit, I love you”), an interactive documentary about the city.
In spring 2011, right before graduating from UCLA, I was awarded a new media development grant from the French Film Institute. This allowed me to move to Detroit to do field research and write the film’s screenplay together with my co-producer Helene Bienvenu — also a French journalist.
Reimagining Detroit: Far from a blank canvas
Only weeks after I arrived, I was very lucky to meet with several Detroiters from all walks of life. I set all the books and articles I had read about the city aside. I focused on meeting people and actually “feeling” the city.
Detroiters took the time to explain their own views of the city to me. But first, my soon-to-be-buddies were always eager to find out themselves what in the world a Frenchwoman would come to Detroit for.
Soon enough, I was told personal stories, as Detroiters shared with me the challenges they faced and their hopes for the future. I’d just sit and listen for hours and hours.
Meeting with people such as the legendary Grace Lee Boggs (97-year-old activist and philosopher), Malik Yakini (from D-Town, the largest urban farm in Detroit) and Olayami Dabls (from MBAD’s African Bead Museum), among many others, was definitely life-changing. Thanks to this Detroit crash course, I quickly stopped calling Detroit a “blank canvas.”
I realized how instrumental the activist community was and I also learned about African-American history and culture, which I had never been exposed to before.
This grass-roots approach definitely transformed my work. I felt an urge to pay tribute to the amazing efforts of the Detroiters I met and was told about, those who had worked continuously through the roughest times to keep their community together through the simple power of “reimagination” — those whom I had never heard of in the articles and books I read prior to coming to Detroit. As I decided to stay on for a full year in order to work on my project, I became part of the Detroit community.
I spent the first two weeks of my stay in New Center. That neighborhood looks like most of Detroit: There are several abandoned houses, some streetlights are broken, and there is little access to fresh food. There’s also a very strong sense of community. It was very important for me to have that first exposure, because that made me aware of how different downtown, Midtown and Corktown are, in comparison. Racially, too.
There’s a clear line that’s drawn in the city. It’s rare to see different communities coming together in Detroit. That still surprises me to this very day. It feels like remnants of segregation. On the other hand, urban farms, such as Feedom Freedom, D-Town and Earthworks, as well as the Fender Bender bike shop or the Recycle Here recycling center, are counted among the rare places where I’ve actually seen people really come together. Through this do-it-yourself attitude, I think that Detroiters have found a unique way to build strong and sustainable communities.
This is truly what other cities can learn from Detroit.
‘Detroit je t’aime’: Talking to Detroiters, not at them
The wisdom Detroiters have shared with me has inspired me to develop my documentary as an “open-source” project. “Detroit je t’aime” is going to be an interactive documentary. This means that it will exist on the Internet, free for everybody to see, as long as you have a connection on a computer or a smartphone. While watching the story, you’ll be able to “dig in” to specific themes. I’ve imagined creating a “DIY toolbox” that will pop up during the film — it will include guidelines and tools for the audience to start DIY initiatives, similar to those that will be in the film itself.
This form of nonlinear storytelling is a new way to take advantage of the power of the Internet. The audience will be able to share quotes and DIY projects with their friends through social networks.
Ultimately, my wish is that “Detroit je t’aime” will bridge Detroit and Europe by calling for people from both sides to submit personal stories and share ideas.
About the filmmakers
Nora Mandray (director/producer) and Hélène Bienvenu (co-producer), collaborators on “Detroit je t’aime,” met while in school at the Institute of Political Science in Paris. Mandray is a Fulbright scholar and holds an MFA from UCLA film school. Thisyear, she was selected at the Berlin Film Festival as an “emerging talent.” Bienvenu is based in Hungaryand works as a foreign correspondent for the daily French newspaper La Croix. Together they’vebeen writing about Detroit for French magazines such as Glamour, Usbek & Ricaand Les Inrockuptibles.
They’re currently raising funds online to finish their film. Their campaign until this Monday, July 30th. You can see it at: http://tinyurl.com/detroitjetaime
Only 3 days left to buy tickets for the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program charity boxing event – we are so honored to have Jackie Kallen as our emcee – DJ Thomas ‘Tom T’ Thankachan - some great silent auction items – delicious local food – and some of the best amateur boxers going at it!!
Tickets can be purchased at www.downtownyouthboxing.org and at Supino Pizzeria
If you buy tickets online you ticket will be waiting for you at check-in the night of the event!!
In a sport as explicit and intense as boxing, there is little room for ambiguity. There is an understanding between two fighters, an agreement that the outcome of their square-off will result in a winner and a loser. When those two gloves touch in the middle of the ring, both know there is no gray area, no second place.
Neither diplomacy nor negotiation guarantee victory in the canvassed boxing ring, only an abiding resolve to destroy.
Carlo Sweeney’s plain-spokenness is the result of a stark youth and over three decades of boxing. Sweeney, 42, who goes by “Khali,” grew up on the city’s East Side. Hemmed by Poletown and Hamtramck, Sweeney says his neighborhood had no real name. It was an unpretentious place known by the confluence of two streets – “Harper and Van Dyke.”
Sweeney says growing up, there was little in the way of constructive recreation. At the few venues he and his friends would visit, the threat of unexpected and total violence loomed. Fights, gunshots and sometimes murder would interrupt an evening of skating at the local rink or a round of bowling.
In founding the Downtown Youth Boxing Gym in 2005, Sweeney wanted to offer an avenue for the city’s youth to be more meaningfully engaged. His goal, he says, was to “give kids something positive to do with their lives” — something he didn’t have himself growing up.
The Gym instructs kids in three areas; physical (boxing training), academic (tutoring and counseling) and community service (volunteering). With a current enrollment of 65 students (ages 8 to 18, all who attend at no cost), the program is determinedly maintained, with limited resources, by a small staff of two: Sweeney and Jessica Hauser.
Hauser, a former elementary school teacher is the Gym’s administrative director, managing its operational affairs. Hauser played an integral role in transitioning the organization to a registered nonprofit, formalizing its program offerings and slowly building its funding base. Hauser’s focus on running the Gym allows Sweeney to do what he does best: motivational speaking.
“The best way to dodge a right is to lean into it,” offers Sweeney in response to the apparent paradox of teaching boxing – a violent sport – to a young urban population overexposed to violence. Sweeney’s hope is that the kids he teaches choose the controlled violence of the boxing ring over the destructive and wanton violence of the streets.
Indeed, “leaning into a punch” — as a counterintuitive reaction to danger — is an apt metaphor for Sweeney’s approach to teaching, which has helped the Gym produce more champions than many better-equipped and staffed facilities.
While proud of their champions, the Gym does not require all students to box. They must participate in the training, as well as the academic programming and community service work. Boxing, Sweeney explains, is their entree into other learning.
Consequently, the kids enrolled in the Gym have seen a marked improvement in their grades and overall self-esteem. Sweeney believes a fundamental factor in this is trust. The kids know they can count on him being available, and this allows for an environment of learning that is comfortable and non-judgmental.
This trust is critical because the stakes are high. Sweeney knows there are dire consequences for kids who are not positively stimulated. “Every kid is at risk of going to jail,” he says, including the youth enrolled in his gym.
The antidote to this uncomfortable reality is what he refers to as “release points” — activity that harnesses their energies, frustrations and anger into productive outcomes. He speaks of boxing as a release point, no different from basketball or chess, where kids expend their fury responsibly.
Without these outlets, Sweeney warns of a grim future. “By the time they rebuild Detroit, we will be dead,” he says with a brutal frankness that is hard to ignore. For him, the real fight is showing others another way.
Originally published for the Urban Innovation Exchange (@UIXDetroit). Profile and photo by Tunde Wey. Video by Stephen McGee Films.
To support the Downtown Youth Boxing Gym, visit Detroit Big F Deal to donate to their training and tutoring programs and buy tickets for their charity boxing event “Rumble on the River” this Friday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Detroit Yacht Club.
Portrait of Carlo Sweeney by Marvin Shaouni
- By Michael Martinez
- The Detroit News
Cast off as dead when the Tigers left for Comerica Park a decade ago, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood — Corktown — is experiencing a resurgence, thanks to an influx of young entrepreneurs and new residents.
In the past 18 months, seven businesses, including restaurants, a hostel, a coffee shop and a cocktail bar, have opened along a neglected stretch of Michigan Avenue. Other ventures are in the works, and neighborhood stalwarts like Nemo’s, a popular sports bar, are helping the revitalization with plans to expand or launch businesses.
“People thought Corktown would die after Tiger Stadium left,” said Dennis Fulton, co-owner of the Mercury Burger and Bar, which opened in March at the corner of Michigan and 14th Street. “It’s been quite the opposite. There’s a real young, hip crowd moving in creating a great mix of the old and new.”
The buzz about new businesses, along with incentives to encourage downtown workers to live in some city neighborhoods, are luring residents to the area settled by Irish immigrants who arrived here from County Cork in the mid-19th century. The rental market is white hot. While the neighborhood west of downtown has been on the verge of a comeback in the past, the latest effort seems to have more momentum, with many new businesses working collaboratively to create an eclectic mix of shops and eateries.
“This is maybe the first model of locally owned businesses that are diverse in every way possible,” said Phillip Cooley, an owner of the popular Slows Bar B Q, who has encouraged and worked with others to set up shop in Corktown. Slows, which opened in 2005, has been a catalyst in the redevelopment, drawing lots of local and national attention, and enticing suburbanites back to Corktown.
Continue reading here…
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120716/BIZ/207160323#ixzz20nW4MI6f
Just added new photos to the Detroit Images page. Check it out!