Local Filmmakers’ Doc Analyzes Detroit’s Struggles

Chris Jackett, C and G News, March 9, 2012

Two local filmmakers have tried to capture the city of Detroit’s perilous problems and how it all got to this point in an 85-minute documentary called “DEFORCE.”

“DEFORCE” means “to take away or hold property from its rightful owner by force,” the filmmakers said. Royal Oak native Daniel Falconer, 28, and West Bloomfield resident Andrew Rodney, 29, shot more than 60 hours of footage to gather what they felt was needed to depict the city’s hardships.

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“Our goal is just to be an education engagement resource. The region needs to be engaged a little more,” Rodney said. “It was certainly enriching. My exposure to Detroit was the same as anyone else with the headlines. (Then) I worked at a factory on Eight Mile and I got to know the workers there.”

Some of Rodney’s co-workers were murdered, he said, fueling his quest to find out why something like that would happen.

The documentary is heavy on statistics.

For example, there were more than 1.08 million occupied housing units in Detroit in 1960 and less than 275,000 occupied housing units in 2008, plus more than 100,000 that were abandoned or vacant.

“Blight is not an ugly footnote, but the city’s defining topographical characteristic,” narrator Nelson Jones said in the film.

The film also states that there are 19,500 homeless people in Detroit, Highland Park and Hazel Park. Of the homeless, 30 percent are children and 15-20 percent are mentally ill or substance abusers.

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Fewer people and residences have led to lesser property taxes, heavily affecting the city’s finances, as well. Detroit’s median household income was 132 percent of the national average in 1949, but was just 56 percent of it in 2009.

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Financial mismanagement has not helped the situation.

According to the filmmakers, former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick spent more than $210,000 on the city credit card during his first 33 months in office, $50,000 of which was for personal expenditures. When a police officer and deputy police chief were fired for whistleblowing and took the city to court for wrongful termination, the city fought the case instead of settling for $1 million. It ended in a $9 million settlement.

“The level of corruption blew my mind. The policies blew my mind,” Falconer said. {snip}

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The documentary chronicles key portions of the city’s history, ranging from the automobile boom and former Mayor Coleman Young’s Poletown Plant to the July 1967 riots and subsequent STRESS police task force’s sometimes lawless actions. “DEFORCE” touches on the corruption in Kilpatrick’s tenure as mayor, shows a panoramic view of the differences on the border at Grosse Pointe Park and looks at the well-publicized crime statistics and how they got to that point.

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In 2006, an estimated $1.3 billion to $2.5 billion in drugs was trafficked through Detroit, as chronicled in the film. Of the 21,000 murders that have occurred in the city since 1969, many are drug related. In the first six months of 2004, 65 percent of 800 shootings in Detroit were drug related. In the same time span, 100 U.S. soldiers were wounded in Afghanistan.

“The most disturbing statistic that I’m always (repeating) is more than 21,000 people have been murdered since 1969. That’s the population of Birmingham or Sterling Heights,” Rodney said. “We’ve desensitized to the violence in the city. … If there were a shooting at Groves, it would just turn peoples’ worlds upside down and they’d pull their kids out of schools.”

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Detroit’s city motto is “We hope for better things; It shall rise from the ashes.”

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“Telling people to be more engaged would be lovely, but that’s kind of reaching for a documentary,” Falconer said. “It would be a nice side effect if people come away ticked off about the reality and want to get engaged.”

For more on the film, or to purchase a copy, visit www.deforcemovie.com.

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