Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Focus: "Street Fighting Man" Shows Life in Detroit

In my Friday Focus segment for this week, I want to highlight a new documentary, Street Fighting Man, which provides a unique look into life in modern day Detroit. What I like about this film is that is goes outside of the usual Downtown - Midtown - Corktown comfort zone that a lot of filmmakers who do documentaries about Detroit find themselves in.

Award-winning filmmaker, Andrew James, has launched a Kickstarter campaign and trailer for the upcoming film, Street Fighting Man, a feature-length documentary that tells the story of three men, each a generation apart, struggling to survive in post-industrial Detroit. Deris Solomon is a young single father who wants to leave behind a high-risk life on the streets, Luke Williams is a middle-aged man remodeling a former crack house after being homeless for several years, and James “Jack Rabbit” Jackson is a retired police officer struggling to save his neighborhood from crime after the local police station is dissolved.

Street Fighting Man tells three intimate human stories buried within statistics of violence that too often dominate Detroit-related headlines. In the last two months alone, burned bodies, murdered children, and teen shootings were some of the major stories coming out of Detroit. Community crime-fighting groups like the Detroit 300 have taken their frustrations to the streets. In an effort to push past these headlines and statistics, James moved to Detroit for over a year to examine closely life in the city’s neighborhoods, capturing this human struggle on the ground. In all, he spent two years documenting the lives of Deris, Luke, and Jack Rabbit as they struggled to escape violence, discovering a nuanced story of heartbreak and hope in each of their lives.

“We wanted to tell a universal, human story,” says James. “We wanted to avoid the popular tale of Detroit’s economic decline or the trend to focus on young artists or entrepreneurs re-purposing vacant spaces near Midtown. Detroit is close to 50 percent unemployed and the downtown area is too far away and difficult to access for many residents. With so many Detroiters coping with violence and struggling to get ahead, we felt the most immediate, meaningful, and representative stories would be found in the city’s neighborhoods.”

One such community is the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood on Detroit’s East side. It was once a thriving middle-class area built up by the auto and manufacturing industries. But since the local police station closed down, crime has been on the rise and residents have been moving out. It is here where director Andrew James connected with Deris, Luke, and Jack Rabbit and spent the majority of his time.

As Luke collects cans and acquires reclaimed materials to make an old home new again, Jack Rabbit stands up to violent young criminals who were once children in his neighborhood; eventually enlisting the help of Minister Malik Shabazz to close down a crack house. Meanwhile, Deris has to decide how he will provide for his daughter: by struggling to get an education, or by selling drugs like many of his peers. For each of these men, it is a war of little battles, often waged at home, at school, or in the streets. Ultimately, their three narratives collapse into one, telling the tale of one man as he attempts to make it through his youth, mid-life, and old age in post-industrial America.

James’ previous work, Cleanflix, a feature-length documentary about the Mormon-born clean film movement, premiered at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival in 2009. It is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and DVD. After the success of Cleanflix, James turned his attention to Detroit, Michigan, a city and state he has been visiting his entire life where he has personal history and strong family ties.

Street Fighting Man is nearing the finish line but needs to raise crucial post-production funding to bring it to the screen. In addition to approaching granting organizations, the producing team has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help secure these much needed funds. Through a partnership with Amazon, Kickstarter allows supporters to make secure pledges in return for incentives crafted by the project creators. If successfully funded within the deadline, the project receives the amounts pledged. The team of Street Fighting Man is seeking to raise $20,000 for post-production costs, including hiring Sundance-award winning editor Greg Snider (How To Die In Oregon). The campaign is set to conclude on Sunday, June 10.

For more information about the Kickstarter campaign, and to see the benefits of helping out, please visit their Kickstarter page here.


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