The original French title, Detroit Ville Sauvage, is so amusing, don’t you think?
When the city of Detroit was being built, nobody could have known that it was going to become such a symbol for the optimism and success of America’s prosperity. The city grew because Henry Ford’s Model T car was made there. As it prospered and became the most industrialised city in the U.S., it also became a wealthy centre of the country’s automobile industry.
Florent Tillon’s documentary film looks at the decaying Detroit of today and while highlighting the enormous problems it faces, he also showcases the pioneering spirit of the people who still live there. Although the Ford Foundation made a valiant attempt to rejuvenate the city by building Renaissance Park, a huge and under-utilised shopping and office complex, the city continues to crumble and today it is no more than a vast demolition project. Monsieur Tillon explores the determined efforts of citizens of today’s Detroit as they struggle to bring order and a sense of purpose into their lives. Some organise groups of young people to tear down disused and dangerous homes, long abandoned by former car-workers, but the enormous factories and warehouses are on such a vast scale that they are being left to rot and it is hoped that a massive salvage operation will be set in operation one day and they will be demolished.
While surveying the dereliction of his hometown and pointing out the birds and other wildlife which are now making the abandoned buildings their own, one citizen tells us that Detroit was built on the prairie and suggests that the derelict buildings be torn down and the land turned back into farmland to feed the American people. Some inhabitants are already doing that, albeit on a very small scale. Unemployed workers are turning vacant parking lots into communal gardens and share the fruit and vegetables they grow with each other. Their sense of survival and of helping each other offers a glimpse into what the early settlers must have experienced as they struggled to form their country.
Monsieur Tillon’s view of Detroit is one of optimism for the future of its forgotten inhabitants rather than one of hopelessness for this abandoned city. His documentary suggests that the people who still live in Detroit deserve to be recognised for their determination to keep the pioneering spirit which made America the success story it is still alive today. (JM)