The love and pride for the city of Detroit was palpable at The Fillmore on Thursday night with a sold out screening for the Freep Film Festival‘s opening night film, 12th and Clairmount. The line to get in stretched around the building and down almost two blocks while metro Detroiters braved the cold, wind, and rain just to be a part of the experience. Once inside, the energy in the room was that of excitement and anticipation.
Several people came out to introduce 12th and Clairmount, one of whom was Elliot Wilhelm, film curator for the Detroit Institute of Arts, founder of the Detroit Film Theatre, and host of Detroit Public Television‘s (DPTV) Sunday Film Festival. Wilhelm spoke about the process of finding the home movies that make up most of 12th and Clairmount, as well as how the film is still a work in progress, despite its completion for the festival. Why a work in progress? Because telling Detroit’s story, specifically the summer of 1967, is never finished. Brian Kaufman, director of the film and videographer at the Detroit Free Press, echoed Wilhelm’s statement by informing the audience that he was still editing the film up until Wednesday night when he hit “export.”
Kaufman’s talent as a director and editor is evident throughout the film, as audio interviews are spliced together with home video footage that depicts what it was like for both black and white families living in Detroit before, during, and after the riots. The film is timely, not only because of the 50th anniversary of the riots, but because this piece of Detroit’s history also exemplifies the current political climate in which Americans find themselves almost as divided as Detroit (as well as other cities) in 1967.
Kaufman weaves all of the footage and ideas together seamlessly, making 12th and Clairmount a tour de force from a director whose eye for storytelling is simply breathtaking. When it comes to the moments in the film that rely on audio interviews only, Rashaun Rucker, Deputy Director of Photo and Video at the Detroit Free Press, provides powerful illustrations that highlight the tensions of the time. Many of these animated moments are about the blatant racism exhibited by the Detroit Police Department, much of which was directed at the black residents of the various city neighborhoods, as well as within the police department itself.
The footage, newsreels, audio interviews, and drawings all work together beautifully, making 12th and Clairmount a fascinating look at Detroit’s history and one of the best documentaries I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. The closing footage that Kaufman chose to leave viewers with is perfect, as it exemplifies where Detroit can, should, and hopefully will go. Is it any wonder that, despite the city’s complicated history, many of us, including myself, are proud to be from the Motor City?
The Freep Film Festival continues through Sunday, April 2nd. For a complete list of films and showtimes, visit http://freepfilmfestival.com.