Creativity, News

Detroit in focus in three films: Detropia, Burn and Unleaded

The world has always been fascinated with the Detroit story in different ways, so it makes complete sense that multiple films set in (or about) the city are coming out simutaneously. Following is a snapshot of the three that are making a splash.


A pair of filmmakers landed in Detroit and from their working space in the Burton School on Cass have caused quite a media stir after winning a Sundance award, getting glowing words from the New Yorker to Salon (who called it “gorgeous and haunting”) to Marketplace, “chronicles the frustration of the city and how what is happening in Detroit is a reflection of the rest of the United States.” However, some, such as Joel Landy, owner of the building they rented from, said “[their film] turned out to be a very depressing look at Detroit.” Curbed Detroit reported that “They hated it. All of them. They got angry” from a screening of 25-30 “influentials.” So there’s a lot of buzz on both sides about this one.

If you’re itching to see it and judge it for yourself after seeing the trailer, here is a list of screenings and WDET has an exclusive members-only free screening in Royal Oak on September 18th.


Burn: One Year on the Frontlines of the Battle to Save Detroit

Growing fires. Shrinking budget. Persistent people. The Detroit Fire Department deals with some of the scariest parts of Detroit on a daily basis, and these filmmakers capture that story. With unparalleled access to the Fire Department, including lots of interviews with firefighters, they shot hundreds of hours of footage in five days throughout the city, including this heart-touching one of a dog being saved in the city.

The trailers promise something that’s visually impactful, especially from the high quality helmet cameras that were used. It’s also helped ignite a bit of a run on Detroit Fire Department merchandise. More money to the fire department can’t be a bad thing, right?

One side note – Denis Leary, of “Rescue Me” fame, is the executive producer. Brenna Sanchez, one of the creators, is from Detroit but no longer resides here. It’s been shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, and the Detroit premiere is September 28th at the Fillmore.


Detroit Unleaded

Shot in 2010 after nine years in the making, this romantic comedy/drama has a unique focus compared to many mainstream films – it’s main cast is Arab, and it even touches on the tinderbox of Arab and African American relations. Very apropos that it was done here, as Metro Detroit has the highest Arab population in the United States. It recently received accolades at the Toronto International Film Festival, notably the Grolsch Film Works Discovery Award.

Filming in Detroit was done at an old gas station, and used mostly local talent. Also unique is that Rola really took a partnership approach to overcome funding woes. For instance, she partnered with culinary schools to provide craft services on set, used local Detroiters to star in her film, and filled her art department with art school interns. The community really came together with Rola Nashef to make what is being called the first Arab American romantic comedy.


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