So we arrived in Detroit with a rough idea for a film: using a Journalism That Matters gathering as the “peg” to draw a parallel between a profession in crisis, a city in crisis — and what people at the community level are doing to alleviate those seeming insurmountable challenges. I hadn’t done any intensive pre-production work, nor extensive research. I didn’t think it would help to do so. Ultimately, “being there” is the best research (something I learned when shooting my first film — I thought the initial trip would serve as research for the “real thing.” In the end, the research trip was the “real thing.”)
I woke up jet lagged and slightly befuddled at how I was going to be productive today. I knew that I’d have the opening remarks at Journalism That Matters (the tagline “Create or Die” is a fairly dramatic hook) to potentially frame the story. My colleague Scott and I decided to grab a late breakfast Le Petit Zinc in Corktown. We figured we could chat with some locals and get the lay of the land.
As we ate our crepes and sipped on espresso, Scott started riffing on how we could somehow draw a parallel between urban farming and community journalism (“people who had moved away from the land in the Deep South to take production line jobs in Detroit were now moving back to the land after those jobs disappeared; food is being created, stories are being created, community is at the center of both initiatives”).
I had noticed a flyer on the wall of the restaurant extolling the virtues of the Detroit Agriculture network, and all of its farmers markets. And we knew that the restaurant grew its own herbs and tomatoes out back. We had to find some stories, so I asked the manager where I could find the local edgy weekly newspaper.
He went into an adjacent office and introduced us to Terry, the owner of the Michigan Citizen, self-described as “America’s most progressive community newspaper.” Terry’s family also owns the Le Petit Zinc. That got Scott all excited.
“The fact that the newspaper and the restaurant are in the same fucking building — it’s here!” he said. We had to grin at the serendipity of it all.
Suddenly, we had a thread to tie community farming with community storytelling. And the pieces started falling into place. Terry’s new Managing Editor, Xenobia connected us to her friend at the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Jeff DeBruyn from the Corktown Residents Association just happened to be picking up his coffee at Le Petit Zinc, and insisted on taking us on a quick tour of the neighborhood, telling us how social media and community-organizing were going to help take back the neighborhood. His friend, Garden Greg, has started a bunch of urban farms throughout the area, and will meet us on Saturday at the Eastern Farmer’s Market. That’s also where the chef of Le Petit Zinc will shop for produce that morning.
I had started the day bleary-eyed and somewhat unsure as to how to grapple with our venture. As Scott (the Yogi Berra of academia) would say, “We may not know what we’re going to do, but we do know what we’re doing.” As we start to connect with people, the story begins to reveal itself.