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Independent Lens: Detropia

Can the Motor City rise from its ashes? 9 pm Monday, May 27, on WILL-TV. Watch a preview.

Young artists in gas masks before burned-out building. They are trying to make sense of what has happened to their city.

Young artists trying to make sense of what has happened to their city.

Detroit was the birthplace of the middle class, an industrial utopia where anyone who worked hard enough could experience the American dream. But today, the Motor City, which has essentially been taken over by the state of Michigan, is on the brink of bankruptcy.

In the past 10 years this Midwestern icon has lost one-fourth of its population and half of its manufacturing jobs. City officials are in the midst of the most dramatic “downsizing” of an American city ever seen — demolishing thousands of homes, reconsolidating massive tracts of excess land, cutting basic services, and encouraging Detroiters in marginal neighborhoods to move.

This is a city in the throes of transition. Those who have stuck with the city are at the breaking point while artists and curious outsiders flock to the city in search of inspiration and opportunity.

Racial tension, globalization, greed, and lack of innovation have led to a moment of truth for Detroit. How the Motor City reboots itself will set the example for countless other post-industrial cities with similar fates. And today the entire country is watching to see if this storied metropolis has the courage, creativity, and grit to reinvent itself — or if it will instead implode.

Detropia is a cinematic tapestry that chronicles the lives of several Detroiters trying to survive and make sense of what is happening to their city. An owner of a blues bar, a young blogger, an auto union rep, a group of young artists, an opera impresario, and a gang of illegal “scrappers” make up an unlikely chorus that illuminates the tale of both a city and a country in a soul-searching mood, grasping for a new identity.

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