Unity Studios (Unity) announced the production of “War Flowers,” its first feature length film. The Civil War-era family drama, produced and financed by Unity and directed by veteran filmmaker Serge Rodnunsky is being filmed on the studios’ sound stages and at select off-site locations around southeast Michigan. “War Flowers” all-star cast was partially packaged by ICM and includes Christina Ricci (The Addams Family, Penelope), Jason Gedrick (Backdraft), Tom Berenger (Platoon, Major League) and introducing Gabrielle Popa.

“When I founded Unity Studios and the Lifton Institute for Media Skills (LIMS) my goal was two-fold: to bring a new industry to my home state and to put people to work,” said Unity Studios president Jimmy Lifton. “This movie is the embodiment of those goals because it is being crafted entirely in Michigan, and 55 LIMS’ graduates have been hired to put the skills they’ve learned to use as members of the crew.”

“War Flowers,” features a heartfelt family-focused storyline about Sarabeth (Ricci), a young mother whose husband has left her and her daughter to fight for the South in the Civil War. It follows the havoc and hardships the war creates for Sarabeth and her daughter, and explores their hopes, faith and belief that the man they love will return. All the while, they must decide the fate of a Yankee soldier (Gedrick) who enters their life. The movie also features impressive battle sequences and Civil War re-enactments.

The project, produced by Lifton, is in collaboration with Trivision Pictures and Interlight Entertainment.  Distribution demand for “War Flowers” has fast tracked delivery in time for the Fall Markets.

Unity Studios and LIMS recently announced that more than half of the LIMS inaugural class, which began in October 2009, reported finding work on at least one film, TV or music video production within 90 days of their January 2010 graduation. LIMS’ second class graduated on June 21 and its third class begins this August.

The American Beauty Mural Unveiled

Artist Halima Cassells explains the message behind  “American Beauty”  a public art mural project commissioned by TechTown and Wayne State University, with support from the University Cultural Center Association.  Working with 31 Detroit children ages 6 to 19, Cassell  and seven other artists  from the Detroit Mural Factory have turned a  faded architectural gem into a community focal point once more.  Here’s a look at her vision of the project. ~Nichole Christian

“As a returning native-Detroiter, I am encouraged by the amount of opportunity and talent that abounds in our city.  This mural project serves to show how transformative public art can be for a space, as well as how art brings people and community together. Through collaborative vision and work we at the Detroit Mural Factory were able to turn an eyesore into a focal point; wrapping a block-long blighted building with a vivid modular mural in three weeks.  The American Beauty | Detroit Mural depicts our past, present, and future in terms of our legacy of rich culture and industry.  The motif of light is used throughout to represent Detroit as a seat of ingenuity, and a symbol for our resilience.

The Woodward Avenue view pays homage to the unique history of people and industry in the New Amsterdam area, and marks a tipping point towards the new green industry now blossoming in this place.
The Burroughs portion depicts our ingenuity and forward movement toward green technology and industry and urban agriculture.  The large wooden, student-painted butterflies symbolize our spiritual and industrial metamorphosis and demonstrate artistic collaboration, as they are part of artist Chazz Miller’s 2010 Papillon Effect Project.

The Cass Avenue view shows a snapshot of the future,  surrounded by flourishing clean technology, while being cradled by the Spirit of Detroit.

It is our belief that art becomes more powerful as the number of hands that participate in the creation increases.  It is our hope that more Detroiters will view boarded buildings as canvases and create art for community across Detroit.”

The Spirit of Detroit
Autumn Wolfer

I have to first start out by saying that I’ve been writing this post for about a month now. It was extremely important to me that this particular post turn out JUST RIGHT, because it really does mean that much to me. Most of you also know my inherent ability to be extremely hard on myself to the point where I doubt this post will live up to my own expectations for what I had planned, but here goes. My only hope is that you enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Not too long ago, I was asked why I always post stories and videos about Detroit on my Facebook page. I think the most obvious of the many reasons I do is the fact that I, along with my entire extended family, was born and raised in the city and a majority of them still live in the area.  And while I’ve lived in Chicago for almost nine and a half years now, I still like to keep up on what’s going on at “home.”  

Both of my parents, as well as all of my aunts and uncles were born and raised in the City of Detroit.  East side.  The Wolfer’s in the “house on Runyon” and the Lehman’s in “the house on Rochelle.”  I, too, spent the first year and a half of my own life in the house on Runyon; the house on Rochelle, I’ve heard, is no longer standing.  Both were blue collar families.  My Grandpa Wolfer, as many of you know, drove a Wonder Bread truck, while my Grandma worked as a nurse’s aid at Holy Cross Hospital, where my brothers and I were all born. Until the day she died, my Grandma would constantly be telling me stories of how the nurses at the hospital would always ask, “How’s Autumn?” remembering me as “Mary’s granddaughter” because of my unique name. Caring like a second family. My Grandpa Wally (Lehman) worked for the city, servicing the city’s landscapes and trees on its streets and in its parks, while my Grandma Rosie worked at home, raising their five children – all of them products of Detroit Public Schools.

And it wasn’t just my “family.”  I’ve watched several home videos of my parents growing up – playing with the neighbor kids, learning to ride bikes on Runyon and Rochelle.  Stories from my father about his childhood friend – known to me as “Uncle Jimmy” – and the mischief they caused.  Family names like the Kuhn’s, the Armstrong’s, the Finkbeiner’s, and the Tarte’s – I can’t remember faces, but know from stories that all of these “names” made up a big part of my parent’s extended families.

Their Detroit family.  A family that shocked even my father this past February at my grandmother’s funeral, when news literally spread like wildfire of her passing.  Deciding to have only one viewing day, since we didn’t think many people would come, when instead they came in droves.  All the “kids” from the old neighborhood coming to say goodbye to “Mrs. Wolfer,” some even crying as if it were their own mother’s passing despite the fact, to quote my father, “I haven’t seen him since we were kids.”  While no longer in touch, that spirit of family, of their times growing up in Detroit, was still alive. And to quote one of my favorite authors, also a Detroiter, Mitch Albom, in one of my favorite articles that he’s ever written, it was a reminder that it was “Family.  We’re all in this together.”

And THAT is the Spirit of Detroit.

A couple of weeks ago, Time Magazine dedicated a series of stories to the City of Detroit. The cover of which contained the headline, “The Tragedy of Detroit” complete with an online photo show blasting the title, “The Remains of Detroit.”  A dead city.  A calamity.  The heart of the city: broken.  And while the articles painted a picture of despair, of the physical destructions of the city, what they also spoke to is what I know will 100% make this great city even greater once again – the heart of its people.  The pride. The “spirit.”  It’s unfounded.  I can’t explain it.  While it’s been well over a decade since the last time I lived full-time in the Detroit metropolitan area, I felt it last April when I saw all my friends posting pictures of their trips downtown to cheer on the Spartans during the Final Four. Vibrance. I felt it again, when my brother, who has been unemployed, like a lot of people in Detroit and Michigan for quite sometime now, was accepted into the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – Detroit.  Elation.  I felt it again recently while watching a video of the remains of old Tiger’s Stadium being demolished. Memories. Progress. And most recently, I felt that spirit again, alone in my own apartment, while watching the Tigers lose to the Minnesota Twins in one of the most adrenalin-filled, heartbreaking losses I’ve ever witnessed. Intensity. Only proving that although you can take the girl out of Detroit, you can never take the Detroit out of the girl – it is a part of me.  It lives inside of me.  So much so, that to echo what I said in the first paragraph about this post not living up to my own expectations, I simply cannot find the words to express it.  It’s a strength, a courage, and sorry for reusing this word so many times, but a spirit that cannot be mimicked.

Detroit IS and always has been a great and special city. We’re a little down on our luck right now, but the foundation is still there.  A foundation that my Grandpa Wally planted its parks and on its streets, a foundation that’s built on strength and perseverance.  Knock us down?  Not a chance.

And one thing is for sure: As many articles as I read written by “visitors” to Detroit that call the city “dead” or “dying.” As many news stories that I hear about unemployment rates, or the numbers of foreclosed and vacant homes and businesses I see when I return. One thing is constant – that spirit. The pride for a “dying” city. That sense of we really are all in this together. Fighting, crying, hoping, and working… together. I still feel it – and I haven’t lived, full time, near Detroit since I was in my teens. It’s alive in streets named Gratiot, Woodward, 8 Mile and Trumbull. It’s alive through names like Tiger Stadium, Joe Louis, the People Mover, Trapper’s Alley and Greektown, some replaced now by the bright lights of the casinos, Comerica Park and Ford Field – lights that I’m proud to say were wired an installed by my Uncle Dale and his brothers from the IBEW at Motor City Electric – the same union that my own brother now belongs to, and the same company my brother now works for.  

So, you see. The Spirit of Detroit is far more than just a statue on Woodward Avenue. The true Spirit of Detroit is in the hearts of all those the city has touched, and who have been touched by the city. My grandfathers and their fathers, my parents, and their siblings and mine. And someday my children and grandchildren.  I’m not going to pretend that I know where life is going to take me. Whether I stay in Chicago, or one day move back “home.” But I do know that regardless of my permanent address, I will take my children to Comerica Park and Ford Field. To Belle Isle and for “rides” on the People Mover. They’ll wear Honolulu Blue and Silver, and hats with an Olde English D. And they’ll learn that the only thing that matters in life is heart and spirit. And it’s because of this, that I truly believe the pulse that beats through the empty, but not forgotten streets of Detroit, will be “alive” once again.

All my love forever to the D!
Sam Logan Khaleghi
Special to The Oakland Press

Sitting in a makeup chair, a young girl looks up yawning, before laughing and then immediately apologizing.

“I’m sorry, I’m just so tired, we were filming pretty late yesterday,” she says. “Call time yesterday originally was 5 o’clock, and for some reason the camera broke, and I was like ‘I’m sleeping.’”

The girl is 14-year-old Alora Catherine Smith, a Bloomfield Hills resident.

Alora is preparing to attend Andover High School in the fall, having already worked with an Oscar-nominated director.

Rob Reiner (“A Few Good Men”) auditioned Alora last autumn after surveying a plethora of potentials for the role of Melanie Humes for his upcoming feature film “Flipped.”

The film is a drama based on the book of the same title from author Wendelin Van Draanen.

Although Alora didn’t only read for that specific part, she says she was excited when her agent arranged the auditions and that she was, “ecstatic when I got to go in and meet Rob Reiner during the callbacks at their offices in Ann Arbor.”

When she heard the news that she had landed the role, it became an echo all around her.

She goes on to explain that the news that she got the part was soon shuffling through the locker rooms and hallways at her junior high school as she informed all her friends who wanted to know all the details about the film.

“Everyone asked me a lot of questions, but I didn’t know anything yet,” she recalls.

Alora was not familiar at first with the classic résumé of her new boss, which includes such films as 1989’s “When Harry Met Sally,” though she was well aware of the reputation of the writer, director and producer.

Alora admits, “I saw Rob Reiner actually for the first time as an actor on Disney’s ‘Hannah Montana,’ which is how I knew about him.”

Sitting in the green room in a Grand Blanc mansion awaiting the assistant director to call her to the set of a promotional piece for an upcoming horror film, she fidgets with the rubber animal wristbands that are covering her right arm and pulls one off to display.

The bracelets that have been a cause of much trouble in grade schools across the country are one of her favorite wardrobe pieces that she gets to keep after filming is complete.

Though not allowed to say much about this other project because of confidentiality agreements, Alora assures that the project is fun and scary, with a plotline that revolves around a babysitter who is hired to take care of a young boy inside what is revealed to be a haunted house of sorts.

Who or what is doing the haunting?

She pauses for a moment to take into consideration how much she can reveal as she lifts her head to look at her mother, Julie Smith, for confirmation.

Alora says that her mother is her talent manager and therefore needs to talk with her before conceding story details.

From Motown to Hollywood

As the manager, Julie organizes Alora’s trips to Los Angeles.

Alora and her mother are back and forth like a game of tennis with the details of her first trip to Hollywood.

Julie and her husband Clay Smith are also artists and both are graduates of Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. Julie works as a freelance graphic designer alongside her husband who teaches industrial design at their alma mater. Alora’s father also contracts out as a production designer for film.

Alora says she feels proud of her parents’ efforts and is thankful for everything they have done to assist in her in following her passion.

Julie laughs out when asked about her reaction to Alora’s initial interest in acting at the age of 10.

“I thought, maybe it will pass, maybe she’ll stop asking one of these days,” she says.

Like most parents would be, Julie was protective and remained well informed about the chances her daughter had, as young actors are up against time and money.

Julie began briefing on how she financed and enrolled Alora for a series of on-camera summer programs in Los Angeles two years in a row.

Reminiscing of her workshops in Los Angeles at Young Actors Camp, Alora says, “The second year I went there, I met Selena Gomez ... she’s so nice. I had a tea party with Selena and we did acting games and people asked her questions.”

Alora even had an opportunity to tour the set of TV’s “Wizards of Waverly Place” with the stars of the show.

Words of wisdom

Julie also warns parents of scammers who arrange acting and modeling conventions with promises that are a bit fraudulent.

Thanks to a previous event that left Julie with mixed feelings and empty pockets, she warns parents, “Here I thought we passed these auditions, however, I didn’t like some of their practices.”

She tells of a contract that was thrown in front of her to sign immediately before they could even talk to the agents or managers that were advertised to be at the event.

“You have to commit like 10 or 15 percent of any income you make for the next three years to them.”

Alora pushes in her own thought with her hands in the air questioning, “When they’re not doing anything?”

Julie also advises the future parents of young thespians, “Absolutely read what you’re signing ... It was quite a learning process.”

With a few years of acting under her belt, Alora poises with confidence before giving her honest advice to other would-be thespians: “Well, definitely if you don’t get a part it’s not always your fault. They’re looking for something specific. Even the greatest actors don’t make it because of what they look like, if you make a mistake (in an audition), don’t beat yourself up about it because something else is going to happen, and it was meant to be.”

Sporting a high level of charm and professionalism, Alora carries herself up from the chair when the assistant director finally pushes in and request that she be on set in five minutes.

Warner Brothers’ “Flipped” opens in theaters Aug. 6 in limited release and nationwide on Aug. 27.

Andrea Isom
My Fox Detroit

42 girls from metro Detroit are on their way to ruling the world. All of them are absolutely amazing, and in just one week, they were able to accomplish what some people never will.

These young girls are ready to show the world what they're made of -- sugar, spice and everything nice and throw in some math, science and technology, too.

"It's a wonderful experience.  Even if you hadn't considered technology as a field, this really opens your eyes," said 7th grader Lauren Pankin.

"At first, I thought it was impossible. I thought that you had to do all these lists of things, but now when I just look at it, it's looking like wow," said 6th grader Leanna Toles.

"I never really was interested in technology before this, but now it's really fun, and I think want to get a job in it," said 5th grader Grace MacLellan.

Camp Infinity is a program designed for girls in grades 5 through 8 all from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.  Thanks to the Michigan Council of Women in Technology, generous sponsors, educators and volunteers, the campers are introduced to video game and web design and some really cool robotics. Keeping these kids on the cutting edge is the key.

"The biggest thing is we found high school's too late," said Camp Director Julie Patterson.

"Plant the seed in these girls' minds while they are young so that they can latch on to the technology when they get older," said volunteer Madhuri Raju.

"Sometimes they get outshone by the boys, and you've got to have a way to draw the girls out and give them a confidence that they might not get at home or at school," said Marcy Klevorn with the Ford Motor Company.

"The percentage of women achieving college degrees is going up. The percentage of women achieving degrees in technology is going down. So, it's actually getting worse instead of better. So, it's really important that we find our best and brightest and we encourage them to consider technology for a career," Patterson said.

It's tremendous what these young minds managed to master in just five days.

"We come out with great robots, excellent web pages.  I mean, they look professional, great use of color," Patterson said.

"These are the kind of employees we need in the future," Klevorn said.

"I want to work in some place like Google or something like that, and do something in math or science," said 7th grader Prerana Shenoy.

"I want to become a politician, but I think I now have a greater understanding of the technological field of website creation. I need a campaign after all," Pankin said.

Their parents are proud and very impressed.

"My daughter came home the first day more excited about this than about the first day of dance or the first day of soccer," said parent Joe MacLellan.

"Amazing and talented, and it's great to have young ladies being involved in technology. I think we need more women involved. This is a great start for them, as well," said parent Dewayne Toles.

"I still don't know what I want to do with my computer science degree, but I know that I love computers and you can just do anything," said volunteer Devan Sayles.

An experience like this is priceless, but Camp Infinity is free. For more information, visit www.mcwtf.org.

Although he retired long ago, Eddie Edwards has found work that keeps him busy for much of the year: staving off blight on his block.

This summer, the 63-year-old Mr. Edwards is chopping down tall weeds in empty lots and cleaning the alleyways behind his home and across the street. He also routinely takes care of the street sweeping, using just a broom and dust pan.

"It is time-consuming," says Mr. Edwards, who spent his professional life molding glass into windshields and tail lights for Chrysler. "But I don't have anything else to do."

Across Detroit, do-it-yourselfers such as Mr. Edwards are rolling up their sleeves and opening up their wallets to provide basic services that the financially strapped city can no longer manage on its own, from boarding up vacant homes to mowing lawns to maintaining parks. In some areas, residents also partner with city agencies or look to philanthropies for help.

"My cellphone is full of people" who do upkeep on their own, says Brad Dick, deputy director of Detroit's General Services Department. Many think they are going it alone, he says. "They're always shocked they're not the only one."

To serve an area of roughly 140 square miles, the city has 106 grass cutters, but also contracts with three vendors to mow vacant lots twice a year. If not for individual residents stepping in, Mr. Dick says, the city would be in much worse shape.

Mr. Edwards and his neighbors say it has been several years since the city provided many maintenance services on their far East Side block. In the winter, he also pays out of pocket for snow removal for most of his tiny block. Another neighbor has agreed to cover the rest of the block. That keeps residents from being snowed in at home, neighbors say.

"That's the reward," says Mr. Edwards. "They thank me all the time."

Southwest Detroit is home to some of the most active residential groups in the city. On one block, residents received a grant earlier this year to begin boarding up vacant homes. A nonprofit has pledged to demolish one vacant home on their own and turn another into a multipurpose space with public art.

The 30-acre Clark Park on the Southwest Side is mainly kept up by a nonprofit, community group that partners with the city. As a result, Clark Park has play grounds, fencing, baseball and softball fields, an ice hockey rink and a recreation center. Since 1991, the city has paid the utilities, trimmed the grass and collected the garbage, with the Clark Park Coalition pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations into everything from maintaining play grounds to providing summer camps and recreational sports leagues for youth. A number of similar groups exist to support other city parks.

In the Corktown community west of downtown, Howard King Jr. maintains more than a dozen empty lots, two of which he farms for his 87-year-old mother.

The 60-year-old youth advocate and part-time landscaper pays teens in his neighborhood to mow lawns and trains them to trim hedges, hoping to keep them out of trouble.

"It's like therapy to me," he says. "I like to see the vacant lots beautiful."

As Detroit continues to lose population and taxpayers, Mayor Dave Bing has been struggling to control a budget deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars. He cut roughly $100 million in spending from his latest budget, but tried to avoid cutting into city services such as grass cutting and street cleaning, which tend to shape people's perceptions of neighborhood quality and safety.

A tussle over the budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year, which began July 1, left him and the City Council struggling to avert the closure of 77 of Detroit's 308 parks. A deal reached last month restored millions of dollars to save the roughly 1,400 acres of parks. But that plan depends on individuals continuing to shoulder much of the maintenance burden.

"Sometimes we really can't do much," says Mr. Dick, the General Services official.

One park spared was the 300-acre Palmer Park on the northwest side. Regulars there credit the condition of the tennis courts to William Martin, a 56-year-old psychiatrist and Detroit native who lives in the wealthy suburb of Grosse Pointe but still has a private practice in the city.

In recent years, Dr. Martin has spent thousands of dollars on filling cracks in the asphalt, putting up wind screens on the fencing and purchasing park benches. When the chains he bought to secure those benches failed to deter thieves, he bought thicker ones.

For the annual amateur tennis tournament he holds there, he called in someone to cut the grass near the courts. The city hadn't done that in weeks, if not months, he says. He also paid for a portable toilet, as there is no functioning toilet nearby.

"If I had to have the city's permission, it would have never happened," he says. He points up to the busted lights around the courts, noting that he hasn't been able to fix those. "To have the city represented like this" is unfortunate, he says. "This is supposed to be like Central Park in New York."

Residents know the city's straits and have been generally understanding, says Mr. Dick, of General Services. When they call, often "they're not saying send in 20 lawnmowers," he says. "They're just simply saying we need some trash bags."
Go Comedy! Improv Theatre welcomes the film Litterbug to its Thursday night lineup during the month of July. The original film by Detroit filmmaker Mikey Brown will play at 9pm immediately following the Go Comedy! original production Space Fight. Tickets ($10 for the night or $5 per show) are available online at www.gocomedy.net, by calling 248-327-0575, or in person beginning at 7pm Wednesday – Sunday at the Go Comedy! box office.

Performances of Space Fight and screenings of Litterbug will continue through July 29.


An independent film shot in Detroit using almost no grid electricity, Litterbug premiered in March at the Burton Theatre, Detroit as part of the first annual Detroit Independent Film Festival. With the goal of making a feature movie spending no money, using no grid electricity, creating no garbage and on a tight three month deadline, the film was a true experiment in radical green production. This 87 minute comedy features some of Detroit’s best actors and improvisers and a soundtrack provided by a dozen Detroit bands and electronic musicians.

“Camera batteries, editing laptop batteries, and video monitor batteries were charged using human pedal power. In fact, I lost 10 pounds during production,” said Mikey Brown, the film’s writer, director and cast member (Brown plays Bug, the film’s lead character). Brown, a Detroit based filmmaker and musician, has directed dozens of short films and commercials, and the cult feature, Garage: A Rock Saga. His YouTube webisode, Ced n Teri, received raves from fans and critics alike and spawned the 2009 Detroit-Wilder Award-winning stage show A Very Ced n Teri Xmas at the Planet Ant Theatre.

The story follows Bug who has been performing his original, electronic music and video art at dance clubs and parties for almost a decade. But don’t call him a DJ. Feeling middle-age approaching he takes one last stab at taking his music career to the next level by signing with a new manager who has some unconventional ideas. Meanwhile the cynical and self-absorbed Bug feigns interest in the Green movement to win the love of Layla, an environmental activist. Along the way he learns a lot about green living, has some run-ins with the law and tries to finally decide what to do with his life.

Litterbug will continue screenings at Go Comedy! through July 29.

Space Fight

Written by Go Comedy! resident members Jen Hansen (Madison Heights) and Pete Jacokes (Ferndale), Space Fight takes a unique look at the “Star Wars” story exploring the politics of the Empire, the grass roots campaign of the Rebellion, and the emotional struggles of Darth Vader, while poking fun at the ridiculousness of one of the world’s most beloved sci-fi sagas. This hilarious show will entertain die-hard fans as well as those who have never seen the films.

Directed by Jacokes with assistance from Hansen, Space Fight features Tim Kay (Ann Arbor) Sean May (East Point) Matt Naas (Ferndale) Travis Pelto (Canton) Chris Petersen (Ann Arbor) and Bob Wieck (Wixom).

Tickets ($10 for the night or $5 per show) are available online at www.gocomedy.net, by calling
248-327-0575, or in person beginning at 7pm Wednesday – Sunday at the Go Comedy! box office.