On Wednesday June 21st, the city of Detroit takes a good look in the mirror with the local film premiere of Tylor Norwood’s 2016 documentary, “The United States of Detroit.”  After a thirty year hiatus from screening films, New Center’s Fisher Theatre will open its historic and decadent doors to a film screening and panel discussion celebrating the power of community.

The Land of Eden Garden, Gratiot Woods photo by Tylor Norwood

Dissecting topics of infrastructure, physical space, sociological trends and political past, the investigative film follows real Detroiters with pride in their city and hopes for a better tomorrow.

As the film’s Director/Photographer Tylor Norwood explains:

A lot of the films I’ve done in the past focus on communities solving problems… a big theme of my work is exploring ways that communities come together. I had this strong image of being young and hearing that song, ‘This land is your land, this land is my land,’- thinking about inter-connectivity between communities facing similar issues. This film doesn’t scream with a rigid motif, but leaves the viewer feeling positive about community and individuals are able to accomplish. Things happening in Detroit are applicable to over 300 postindustrial cities- this film serves as a way to get people brainstorming to solve world problems, starting with themselves.

The United States of Detroit premiere will provide viewers with chance to engage with local citizens from various walks of life. As the film invites us into the perspectives of Pastor Barry Randolph (Church of the Messiah), Kadiri Sennef Ra (D-Town Farm) , Oya Amakisi (Greening of Detroit), DJ Valdez, Derek Weaver (4731 Group LLC) and more, viewers will begin to understand the complexities of Detroit’s unique environment, and the ways in which the city’s resilient and prideful residents  thrive through crests and troughs in Detroit’s colorful history. Implications for improving Detroit’s future outlook are also explored through the personal narratives of dedicated and vocal community activists. Norwood comments:

We’ve found the major players of the city and asked, “Who inspires you?” and continued to ask more people again and again. We traveled to Detroit nine or ten times over two years and [the story] really revealed itself within the last nine months. You have to do lots of digging if you hope to touch the heart of the story. You have to go two, three layers down from what people would normally look for… It took a long time to get our credibility and have people open up to us.

The people of Detroit have been hurt and abused in the past so they are rightfully guarded, but the magic starts to happen once you scratch that surface. As a storyteller, you have to figure out who you are and how you tell stories… it was powerful to be able to tell the story of these people correctly. I have so much faith in people!… The people on the ground are making it happen, and I wasn’t hearing enough of that narrative from Detroit.

DJ Valdez, film subject and premiere panelist, Photo by Tylor Norwood

This production was a collaborative effort with a mix of locals and visitors coming together to share Detroit’s truth. The film’s soundtrack was developed by Charles Tillinghast, more commonly known around the D as DJ and producer Charles Trees. Detroit-based artists Shigeto (Zachary Saginaw, Ghostly International), Lawanda Hampton  as well as Ann Arbor’s Dabrye (Tadd Millinix, Ghostly International) also provided music for this film. Visiting production team Dan Olmsted, Kent Pritchett, Dana Schwartz, Scott Fitzloff, Shannon Stirone- Norwood and more exemplified a cooperative spirit in making this film possible, just as the Detroiters in the film leverage togetherness to achieve social change.

The film screening at The Fisher Theatre will be followed by a dynamic panel discussion featuring panelists: Tylor Norwood, Kadiri Sennefer Ra, Pastor Barry Randolph, Derek Weaver, Oya Amakisi, and DJ Valdez. Emmy Award winning journalists Soledad O’Brien (MSNBC, NBC News, CNN, HBO) and Miles O’Brien (PBS, CNN) will guide the discussion, delving into critical concepts as the panel eagerly looks upon Detroit’s booming development and simultaneous lack thereof. Ecstatic for premiere night, Norwood states:

The reason I do what I do, is to experience that moment where subjects are re-digesting their moments in the film and looking upon their own experience objectively. I am also proud to be able to give back to the city- that was a huge theme from the actual film. I am maniacal about getting the true dirt. It’s not always easy, it’s not always rosy and pretty- but I think on premiere night people will walk out feeling good, connected and represented.

The Fisher Theatre, Photo by Christian Dionne

All proceeds from the awaited Detroit premiere of The United States of Detroit will benefit BLVD Harambee Empowerment Center in Detroit, Michigan. Located within Messiah Episcopal Church on East Grand Blvd., this ministry is a program of the Church of the Messiah featured in the film. Broken down, this acronym stands for Building Leaders for Village Development followed by the Swahili word Harambee which means, “All put together.” According to this organization, “The BLVD Harambee Empowerment Center was created to empower young people by equipping them with skills that inspire the entrepreneurial spirit/mindset.” The center offers programs like bicycle repair training, computer repair and user training, music programs, leather crafting, screen printing, agricultural programs job readiness training and more.  Norwood hopes that sharing information on Motor City activists like Messiah Episcopal Church’s Barry Randolph will inspire others to find ways to make an impact. He elaborates:

In an abstract way the film allows you to figure out how to build the engine inside yourself to get started to make change. Most subjects in the film talk about the igniting moment where they decided not to accept the status quo anymore and that is a very powerful theme throughout.  If you’re someone who wants to get involved and you don’t know how, the film helps you realize its okay to just start with what you have and to seek out others who feel the same.

This film is traveling fast and is on its way to screenings and festivals around the nation and world. Film maker Tylor Norwood sees this film as not only a one time make, but a living a breathing tool for social change.

The subjects are the jewels of the film. I want to be able to take them around to bring the real narrative (via physical presence)  and see how they can find ways to connect with individuals in similar cities, bringing people together and sharing solutions. Things happening in Detroit are happening in hundreds of cities in this nation and in other cities all over the world. We want to find a way to connect these people by taking the film as far as it can go, and  booking more screenings in Detroit.

Men’s youth group at the Church of the Messiah. Photo by Tylor Norwood

Don’t miss your chance to view this Detroit film in the city while benefiting a local community center.

Tickets are $10.00 and can be purchased here.