Julie Jacobs with Jennifer M. Wood

The Hughes Brothers direct Denzel Washington on the Albuquerque set of The Book of Eli (2010).
Some say that money is the root of all evil, while others hold that evil follows money’s absence. Likewise for today’s independent moviemakers, while some contend that bigger budgets open up more creative options, others maintain that limited budgets have a better chance of generating true innovation.

The latter seems to be proving true in American cities big and small, as increasing numbers of would-be auteurs make the leap from moviegoer to moviemaker. They’re being aided by the low cost of digital technologies, which make the medium ever more democratic at the same time that costs creep lower. The barriers that existed for independent moviemakers just a few years ago have all but disappeared, not only in terms of accessibility to reasonably priced production and post-production equipment, but with distribution opportunities, too. Best of all, freshly minted moviemakers don’t even need to leave home to make cinema happen.

For the past decade, MovieMaker’s editors have paid careful attention to location trends. From recent financial incentives to new soundstages, we have tracked these developments while being vocal proponents of the “backyard/backlot” lifestyle—the idea that one should be able to shoot close to where he or she lives.

We also understand that moviemaking is not a solo enterprise; it’s an endeavor that benefits greatly from the support of like-minded artists. It would stand to reason, then, that moviemakers in traditional “cinema cities” such as New York and Los Angeles might have an edge over their peers in lesser-known production areas. But with previously under-utilized areas such as Shreveport, Louisiana and Albuquerque, New Mexico continuing to climb our “best places” list year after year, the truth is that moviemaking can happen anywhere—as long as there are creative artists willing to make a go of it and a community of supporters happy to nurture their talents.

Here, then, is MM’s 10th annual ranking of the country’s best cities in which to be an independent moviemaker.

1. Albuquerque, NM
2. Los Angeles, CA
3. Shreveport, LA
4. New York, NY
5. Austin, TX
6. Stamford, CT
7. Boston, MA
8. Detroit, MI 
9. Philadelphia, PA
10. Seattle, WA

Bruce Bilmes & Sue Boyle
Road Food Digest

We’ve been dwelling lately on the subject of food-by-mail, and Oprah’s O Magazine continues the theme this month with a story by Celia Barbour featuring some favorite e-food sources.  There’s Anson Mills for heritage grains (and a place often mentioned by top chefs when discussing grits and cornmeal), Murray’s Cheese (we’ve ordered from them with great success), Kalustyan’s for Middle Eastern and Indian specialties and spices (another one of our favorites), and La Tienda for Spanish groceries (we’ve enjoyed some wonderful true Spanish chorizo from La Tienda).  They also mention the source of our “house” thick-sliced bacon, Nueske’s.

You’ll find sources for cured meats, heirloom beans, lamb straight from the ranch, Thai ingredients, Italian ingredients, fresh fish, baked goods, and much more.  A few Roadfood favorites are also included: Zingerman’s  for all sorts of specialty foods, the Grand Traverse Pie Company for great pies and local cherry products, and Frog Hollow Farm for top-quality stone fruits.  You can read the whole story here, and check out the entire list of mail-order websites here.

Kick off your Super Bowl weekend right with the “Super Bowl of Chili,” a cook-off and family fun event beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5 at The Salvation Army Corps Community Center, 24140 Mound Road, in Warren.

The fifth annual event will incorporate a chili-tasting contest, bake sale and family fun center with bounce house, games and more.

Event admission is $3 and includes chili and activities. All proceeds benefit The Salvation Army of Warren.

Applications are currently being accepted for chili contestants. To sign up, call Capt. Caleb Senn at (586) 754-7400.

Nicole Ross
Permaculture Research Institute of Australia 

Whenever I mention I’m taking a trip back to Detroit, I always seem to get at least one “why would you go there?” To those unfamiliar with the City, the word “Detroit” often conjures up the negative image of a city gone wrong. Crime, poverty, blight, unemployment – all terms synonymous with Detroit’s reputation for so long. Fortunately, I’m here to inform you that Detroit’s image is undergoing a major makeover, thanks to people like Killian Obrien and Mark Covington. These are two amazing men who are working to bring positive change to one eastside neighborhood. Hope for Detroit also means hope for many other forgotten cities.

I was born into a Polish-Hungarian community on the South Side of Detroit, known as Delray. My great-grandparents made the area their home in the early 1900s. Most of my family continued to live and work in the close-knit community for many years. They were very self-sufficient. They planted food gardens, raised chickens and made their own beer to earn money. They had to be. They were poor.

Then, around 1960, like many others, my family slowly started migrating to bordering cities, such as Lincoln Park. I’m not exactly sure why they moved. But, what I most remember is that every few years more and more residents left. And, as more people left, the neighborhood slowly started to die.

The neighborhood I visited today, located on Georgia Street, off Gratiot, is not unlike Delray. To me, it seemed typical of many residential neighborhoods in Detroit proper; scattered vacant lots, abandoned houses with boarded up windows and many homes in need of repair. I could go on to further describe what many outsiders might even call a “ghetto”. But, to tell you the truth, I was so moved by the positive spirit of the people in the community I encountered, I didn’t see that. Instead, I saw hope. I guess it’s all about perspective.

What I saw was motivated people, with little resources, working together to bring about a positive change in their community. Instead of running, they were digging in, giving a damn and doing the dirty work that must be done – the work that most people refuse to face.

Much like my grandma Sophie from Delray, multi-generational resident Mark Covington has revived the idea of living self-sufficiently. Mark is not only growing his own food, but also raising chickens, right in Detroit. He also started a nonprofit called the Georgia Street Community Collective (GSCC). The GSCC started out as an effort to clean up forgotten vacant lots in his neighborhood. But, like a true Permaculturalist, Mark has turned a problem into a positive solution. With the help of volunteers and urban gardening organizations, he has transformed empty lots into an expanding array of community gardens. He continues to explore other creative options for revitalizing his neighborhood, including pairing up with up-and-coming Permaculture enthusiast, Killian Obrien.

Although he may not have the established reputation in the community that Mark Covington has, Killian Obrien is jumpin’ right in with both feet and eyes wide open. His goal is to start a sustainability education center right across the street from Mark’s family’s duplex. He has purchased a double lot, complete with a house that Mark’s grandma used to live in. He purchased the home just weeks ago, complete with numerous broken windows, holes in the walls, electrical and heating issues and a multitude of structural challenges. Yet, somehow, by diligently working around the clock, he has gotten it into decent enough shape to move his family in.

Killian hopes to completely revamp the house and lots into a model for urban sustainability that can be replicated by residents typical of the area. To help further this goal, he is working with the Permaculture Research Institute USA to set up an education program to offer Permaculture courses to teach people how to do this.

Both Mark and Killian are hoping to collaborate, and, together with other sustainable efforts in Detroit, plan to make a positive change to their city. One day soon, with dedicated community leaders like this, more and more local people will be inspired to move toward self-sufficiency and sustainability, changing the city’s rep from “a city gone wrong” to “a city leading the way into the future of urban sustainability”.

Emerging and established metropolitan Detroit literary and performing artists can now apply for one of 18 $25,000 Kresge Artist Fellowships at www.kresgeartsindetroit.org.

Kresge Artist Fellowships are funded by The Kresge Foundation and administered by the College for Creative Studies, with professional development opportunities for the selected fellows provided by ArtServe Michigan.

The fellowships provide support for 18 artists living and working in metropolitan Detroit (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties) whose commitment to innovation and artistic achievement are evident in the quality of their work. Artists in the following literary and performing arts disciplines are eligible to apply:

  • Literary Arts: Art criticism in all disciplines (including visual, literary and performing arts), creative non-fiction, fiction, poetry, playwriting and interdisciplinary work within the above disciplines.
  • Performing Arts: Choreography, music composition (in all genres – classical, country, electronic, experimental, folk, hip-hop, jazz, rap, rock, etc.), performance art, spoken word, sound art andinterdisciplinary work within the above arts disciplines. 

The College for Creative Studies will host information sessions on Monday, December 7, 2009, and Wednesday, January 13, 2010, at 7:00 p.m. for those artists interested in applying for a fellowship. To sign up to attend, visit www.kresgeartsindetroit.org.

Applications are only available online and must be completed by Friday, February 26, 2010.

The 2010 Kresge Artist Fellows will be announced in June 2010. The fellowships recognize creative vision and commitment to excellence within a wide range of artistic disciplines, including artists who have been classically and academically trained, self taught artists and artists whose art forms have been passed down through cultural and traditional heritage. The fellows are selected through an open, competitive process as judged by an independent panel of local and national artists and arts professionals.

The Kresge Foundation is a $2.8 billion private, national foundation, based in Troy, Michigan, that seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations through its support of nonprofit organizations in six fields: health, the environment, arts and culture, education, human services, and community development. Kresge Arts in Detroit, an initiative comprising the Kresge Eminent Artist Award, Kresge

Artist Fellowships and Kresge Arts Support, represents one of five strategic objectives set forth in the foundation’s Detroit Program, a comprehensive community-development effort to strengthen the long-term economic, social and cultural fabric of the city and surrounding region by strengthening Detroit’s neighborhoods and downtown, promoting arts and culture, advancing regional economic development and enhancing the natural environment. For more information, visit www.kresge.org.

The Kresge Eminent Artist Award and Kresge Artist Fellowships are administered by the Kresge Arts in Detroit office at the College for Creative Studies. Located in Detroit, the college is a world leader in art and design education and prepares students to enter the new, global economy where creativity shapes better communities and societies. A private, fully accredited college, it enrolls 1,400 students pursuing Master of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees. For more information, visit www.collegeforcreativestudies.edu.

ArtServe Michigan is the statewide arts and cultural advocacy organization. Its mission is to cultivate the creative potential of the arts and cultural sector to enhance the health and well-being of Michigan, its people and communities. The organization is committed to developing and supporting the creative and professional potential of artists and other creative practitioners working in Michigan. Through a portfolio of statewide programs, services and resources designed to connect practitioners to resources, information and networks needed to help them thrive, ArtServe Michigan provides practical opportunities that stimulate ideas and growth. Programs focus on four main areas: professional development, networking and dialogue, research and analysis, and awards and benefits. For more information, visit www.artservemichigan.org.

 For more information about Kresge Arts in Detroit, visit www.kresgeartsindetroit.org.

The Other Detroit

Jeremy Levine
Wunderkammer Magazine

I take Interstate 96 eastbound from Ann Arbor. It’s the first warm day of 2008, and the combination of a bright sun and light breeze makes for a beautiful spring afternoon. After 35 miles of Midwestern nothing, I reach the city limits of Detroit. Small, decrepit housing lines the edges of the Southfield Freeway as I approach the exit for North Rosedale, a neighborhood located on the northwest side of the city. As I pull into the local Community House and park—the only privately owned park in the city—the smell of freshly cut grass is almost intrusive. A youth softball game is underway, and parents lounge in folding chairs. Along the edges of the park, residents—predominantly African-Americans—walk their dogs by large, single-family English Tudors. Almost without exception, each two-story house on each tree-lined street adorns a perfectly manicured lawn and a large wooden front door. It’s a middle-class oasis. A distinctly suburban feel, in fact. But it’s not the suburbs. It’s Detroit.

Every journalist and armchair pundit seems to have an opinion on Detroit’s decline, ranging from the well-reasoned to the downright asinine. TIME magazine recently announced Assignment: Detroit, a year-long investigation. Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution wrote a thoughtful piece at the New Republic titled “The Detroit Project,” providing a blueprint for Detroit’s resurgence. Next month, PBS will air “Beyond the Motor City,” part of the network’s “Blueprint: America” series that explores the future of U.S. transportation policy. But each article—each slideshow of “ruin porn”—is incomplete. Each investigation of the “tragedy” of Detroit fails to account for neighborhoods like North Rosedale Park, centers of affluence struggling amidst the decay.

Don’t let the tree-lined streets fool you; North Rosedale has its problems. Indeed, nearly 200 low-income homes in disrepair, many of them vacant, bisect the neighborhood along two streets. According to the Grandmont/Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC), a resident-led community development corporation serving the housing and commercial needs of five neighborhoods on Detroit’s northwest side, the concentrated decline is causing blight to spread throughout the neighborhood, inducing middle-class flight from the city. Still, the neighborhood boasts one of the highest median incomes in the city—nearly $90,000 according to the 2000 Census.

It’s the conundrum of affluence in Detroit: beautiful, historic homes exist, but poverty encroaches from all sides. And it is this conundrum—the irony of being affluent in Detroit—that threatens middle-class stability.

I spent three months commuting to North Rosedale Park during the summer of 2006, and another year and a half checking back periodically for research related to my undergraduate Honors thesis. As a GRDC intern, I administered surveys throughout North Rosedale’s sliver of blight, asking residents for input about their neighborhood. GRDC later used this research to apply for a Neighborhood Preservation grant in December 2006, funding that would have allowed the organization to renovate vacant homes on the two streets and provide homeowners with 0% interest loans for home repairs. But, as I later found out, only “low to moderate income” neighborhoods were eligible for the grant—and the “low income” portion of North Rosedale was too small for Census data to capture. Perhaps ironically, North Rosedale’s ability to contain blight thwarted the neighborhood’s capacity to receive state funding for revitalization.

Still, during the three months of survey collection, I immersed myself in the neighborhood, determined to provide GRDC with the necessary information for the grant application. I networked heavily in the area, asking interviewees to help me set up meetings with their neighbors. I called past donors to GRDC living in North Rosedale, using their networks to build my own within the community. I attended block club meetings, conversing with residents on a group level. Along the way, I became connected to the community, learning more about Rosedale’s anomalous past and troubling present with every interview conducted.

According to neighborhood folklore, CEOs and Presidents of the Big Three auto manufacturers used to call North Rosedale Park home in the 1940s and 1950s. There really isn’t much evidence of this, but what is certain is that Rosedale has always been a hub for the affluent. Originally a suburb of Detroit, North Rosedale was incorporated into the city in 1923—part of the last round of incorporations that ended in 1926. Residents debated the incorporation, but ultimately acquiesced in hopes of more adequate public works. Since they enjoyed about five miles of undeveloped farmland separating them from downtown Detroit, incorporation didn’t come with much responsibility; physical distance from the rest of the city afforded quite literal class isolation. A slice of land—the present-day blighted area—remained undeveloped until the post-WWII housing boom. This new era required new types of housing—in the case of these two streets, affordable housing for WWII veterans. While a single developer meticulously crafted the surrounding 1,500 homes, private, independent developers sporadically constructed 200 affordable homes in the center of the neighborhood.

Still, aggregate neighborhood affluence persisted well through the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. Whereas the rest of the city experienced rapid racial turnover following the 1967 riot and 1974 Milliken v. Bradley school desegregation Supreme Court case, “white flight” was really “white replacement” in North Rosedale. Many white residents were swapped for a new kind of white Detroiter—the anti-racist, food co-op, open school movement cosmopolitan. North Rosedale is still about 15% white, designating the neighborhood as one of the whitest in the city. And the blacks that moved into North Rosedale in the 1970s weren’t the poor ghetto-dwellers many whites had feared. No, these blacks were—and still are today—among the wealthiest Detroit professionals.

North Rosedale Park is the anti-slum. A middle-class majority remained after racial turnover, separating North Rosedale from countless other urban neighborhoods throughout the country. Homes are large, and social cohesion throughout the neighborhood is strong. Residents are tremendously proud of their neighborhood, and perhaps more importantly, committed to the city they call home.

This pride is perhaps most evident in the story of David and Lois Draft, two elderly African-Americans that had lived in North Rosedale for over 25 years when I spoke with them in 2007. We sat and talked for over three hours, with Lois recounting the couple’s courtship and marriage as David smiled and nodded. We talked about Lois’s job in the 1960s as a secretary for Michigan Bell, and David’s job with the City’s Department of Urban Development. At one point, Lois pulled out a handful of loose photos from block parties and June Day parades, glowing as she noted her role as neighborhood matriarch. “Some of the people on the block still call us Mr. and Mrs. Draft,” she explained. “When they get a girlfriend, they bring the girlfriend over to meet us, and we have to check her out.” This respect for “old heads”—sociologist Elijah Anderson’s term for neighborhood elders, mentors, and role models for young people—gives North Rosedale a distinctly communal feel, in every sense of the word.

But North Rosedale isn’t entirely insulated from the crime associated with the rest of Detroit. On one particularly hot day during my survey research in 2006, a middle-aged African-American resident invited me into his kitchen for a cold glass of Faygo cola, a Detroit-manufactured soft drink. He worked for Chrysler, somehow avoiding factory layoffs for nearly three decades. Our conversation was simple enough; I was just happy to be out of the hot sun’s glare, even if his kitchen was a bit stuffy. As we neared the end of the survey, my questions focused on issues of neighborhood violence. When I asked this resident how safe he felt in North Rosedale, he remarked—quickly and confidently—that he felt exceptionally safe in his neighborhood. He then unzipped his windbreaker, and as my eyes widened, revealed a Glock 9 mm handgun firmly attached to his chest. “Who wouldn’t feel safe with this?” he joked.

He quickly assured me that he had “all the necessary paperwork” to carry a concealed weapon, and even told me the story behind his purchase (his wife had her car stolen a few years back). Still, he carried a gun for a reason. While I never saw any robberies, or feared any harm against myself, I certainly noticed a few, shall we say, transgressions during my three-month tenure with the GRDC. More than a few times I caught the unmistakable aroma of marijuana wafting from the handful of front porches where young men congregated. A few teenagers—from outside the neighborhood, I learned—hung out on the porches of abandoned homes, much to the chagrin of older residents. But these were isolated incidents; by and large, North Rosedale felt like Anywhere, USA.

No story or investigative report has captured this side of Detroit, the North Rosedale side. It’s not the bombed out train station, nor is it the urban prairie. It’s not the empty factory, nor is it the large housing project. It’s not the homeless man pushing his cart down a desolate downtown, nor is it the young woman waiting in line for a welfare check.

No, it’s the daily struggle of the urban middle class, the plight of a forgotten population. It’s the neighborhood where Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm lived briefly before ultimately moving to the suburbs. It’s half a mile from where Detroit historian Thomas Sugrue grew up, a neighborhood his parents hoped to one day “be wealthy enough” to call home. It’s the tree-lined streets, the well-maintained community park. It’s the colorful gardens and golden retrievers. It’s the uneasy, yet unwavering middle class in an otherwise unsettling and unsure urban abyss.

It’s the other Detroit.

Jeremy Levine is a doctoral fellow in the Inequality and Social Policy Program at Harvard University. He blogs at Social Science Lite.