Detroit has earned its notorious title as one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. due to a struggling automotive industry, increasingly high unemployment, poverty, race issues, vacant houses, high crime rates and decreased public services. Places where houses, factories and schools were once thriving are left abandoned because only half of the city's original population remains. In the last fifty years, one of the wealthiest cities in America has transformed into one of the most economically and socially challenged. Where residents once had major supermarkets and affordable, healthy dining, now liquor stores sell groceries from behind bullet-proof glass, and fast food restaurants are rampant. However, despite Detroit's struggles, the city and its residents have emerged with their own solution. Detroit is blooming from within.
Satellite images speak for themselves, more than one third of the city has become green again, just as it was before the industrial era. This new landscape is creating opportunities and hope for the city and its residents. Land that was used for farming a century ago has again been cultivated, this time by the urban farmer. Vacant lots in the heart of the city are being returned to use as fertile farmland. The people of Detroit have developed the land for many reasons; some grow crops for their own families, some share with the neighbors or community, while others sell their produce at the market. An exciting example of the positive effects of this renewal is that the bee population, almost extinct in America, is flourishing in Detroit. The extensive variety of native and cultivated flowers on the now flourishing lots and the lack of pesticides make Detroit's unique environment perfect for a healthy honey bee population and prolific honey production. Although it's a side of the American identity that's rarely shown, Detroit's ingenuity and adaptation is inspiring.
Grown in Detroit focuses on the urban gardening efforts managed by a public school of 300, mainly African-American, pregnant and parenting teenagers. In Detroit alone, there are annually more than 3,000 pregnant teenagers who drop out of high school. This school is one of three that focus on urban gardening and this population located in the United States. As part of the curriculum, the girls are taught agricultural skills on the school's own farm which is located behind the school, in what used to be the playground. The young mothers, often still children themselves, learn to become knowledgeable about the importance of nutritional foods, the process by which these foods arrive at their plates, and ultimately, to become independent and self-empowered through the process of farming. Many of them start out disliking the often physically hard work on the farm, but this aversion disappears as they see the fruits of their labor growing and being sold for profit. “Back to the roots” has sprouted as a simple yet effective solution for Detroit. As industrial models fail, this is a solution to be replicated in other former industrial giants the world over.
Under the name of filmmij, Mascha and Manfred Poppenk, partners privately and in business, are working on documentaries that are as close to reality as possible. They met in Africa, where together with wildlife filmmaker and multiple Emmy-winner Baron Hugo van Lawick, they shot the wildlife film 'Serengeti Symphony'. Concentrating on documentaries 'pur sang', and without staging or guidance, their films are true cinéma vérité. Mascha's and Manfred's vision for documentary making turned out to be in synch, and they knew that together, they could form a more perfect artistic ideal. This ideal is embodied in filmmij.
For us, the filmmakers, it seems contradictory to write a statement as we believe the film is the statement in itself. In particular we feel the people portrayed speak quite eloquently on their own behalf. We love Detroit and its residents. Sure it could be in a better shape but it’s one of the few cities left with such beautiful architecture, history, community spirit and nature. During the past 50 years the city has lost more than half of its population. This was devastating for those residents who didn’t have the choice to leave. No jobs, no income for the city, crime increase, just a few facts the ‘left over’ residents have to face every day. What choice do you have if you're born into this city? You have to try to make the best of it. But what are the odds of succeeding in America if you are born a female, of African American descent, out of a teen mother and becoming one yourself… small, very small. At a time when things feel they can't get much worse, we see hope and promise emerge. It has to get better and the people are fighting to find solutions to do so. Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit is one out of only three schools in the U.S for pregnant and parenting teens. Under the inspiring leadership of the principal, three hundred girls bring their babies to school every day and work hard to get their diploma. One curriculum to get them back on track and teach them the basics of life is urban farming. The city, through its many vacant lots, allows the school and other residents to have farms where houses, shops and factories once stood. Taking care of animals, growing produce, earning money to do so, is helping to shape these dejected girls into strong, independent and hopeful women.
|filmmakers||Mascha & Manfred Poppenk|
|camera||Suzan van Steenwijk|
|sound design||Hugo Dijkstal|
|color grading||Ronald van Dieren|
|thanks to||Catherine Ferguson Academy and everyone who made this film possible|
|Detroit pr team||Wendy & Vikas Relan, Michelle Yovanovich, Andrea Pietrowsky-Ward|
|legal advisor||Sangeeta Relan|