HIFF Interview: Detropia directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

This Saturday, July 21 at 8 PM the Hamptons International Film Festival hosts Detropia as part of its SummerDoc series. The film explores the depths and depressions Detroit suffered after the Automotive and manufacturing crash and examines its current state. An elegiac portrait of a former “boom-town,” once the fastest-growing and now the fastest-shrinking. The filmmakers corral the thriving, unique and energetic people still living in Detroit, illuminating the possibilities brimming under the surface. The film will be hosted by Alec Baldwin followed by a Q & A with the directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.

Heidi and Rachel were kind enough to answer a few questions beforehand about their film. With Detropia, they are trying something new in terms of how and where the film is screened. They made a film about people and decided to take their film to the people. “This film is our truly most independent (and visual) work and a creative departure for us – we wanted it to be a springboard for conversation about where we are headed as a nation. In order to do that, we need people to see the film as far and wide as possible. That’s why we’ve decided for the first time in our careers as filmmakers to go “Direct to Fans” and distribute our work independently.”

 
 

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SUNDANCE PREMIERE

[/column] [column size="2-3" last="1" style="0"] With Detropia, you’ve decided to tour your film from city to city and forgo the traditional distribution route. Why did you decide to implement this method?

“At Sundance we got offers from a handful of distributors, but they did not excite us. The scope of their rollout plans didn’t seem ambitious enough to us in regards to the number of markets. Taking the film to LA, New York and Detroit just wasn’t enough. What about Madison? Columbus? Santa Fe? We chose to do it the hard way, keep control of the film and its roll out, hold on to our rights and see what we could do. Plus the field has changed a lot since out last theatrical release (“Jesus Camp”) and it has become more common to do it this way. We follow directors like Frederick Wiseman (Le Danse), the Kartemquin folks (the Interrupters) and Gary Hustwit (“Helvetica”) in the DIY model.”

While much of the film was produced with the help of Ford Foundation, ITVS, Sundance Institute, Impact Parters, Vital Projects, and more you decided to raise $60,000 + on the crowd-sourcing platform Kickstarter to help with distribution. Why did the idea of Kickstarter appeal to you over more conventional fundraising sources?

“We have never gone to the people for funding, we have never reached out to our community of filmmakers, friends and those indie film lovers out there. This was VERY NEW to us. But we looked around at the various options and decided that Kickstarter was a perfect fit for a film about Detroit. Detroit strives for community, despite its vastness which makes it difficult for people to connect. Crowd funding is about finding a community of people who share your vision. Detroit is showing signs of an entrepreneurial class that is willing to be brave and just go for it, despite the odds. That is what Kickstarter represented to us: Just you and your constituency, making something happen. No middle man. It’s exhilarating.”

Detropia seems alarmingly prescient in our country’s current state. Its message is both relevant to us as individuals and as American’s. Do you believe the alternative distribution and fundraising techniques (Kickstarter) you are utilizing could still work for other films without the same intrinsic support network? Will you consider using this model for your next film?

“Detropia carries some tough messages that neither presidential candidate probably want to promote right now..but what we have seen so far is that regular people are ready to talk about the future of our country in a candid way that I have not seen before. We are in a moment of deep anxiety about where we go next. It’s make or break time for the U.S. and Detroit represents this so well, and so Detropia is very timely. It is a film that inspired us to take it out on our own to audiences. We are not sure what the next project will bring, but I don’t think we will ever look at our films the same again after this. We will see how this goes, and keep independent distribution as real option from the get-go, in the event that it’s the best thing for the film. Every single film is hand crafted and needs something a little different. Detropia needed this approach, who knows what the next cinematic rascal will want out of us. They are so demanding!”

 
 

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