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We Are Not Ghosts cover image

We Are Not Ghosts 2011

Not Recommended

Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Mark Dworkin, Melissa Young
Directed by Melissa Young
DVD, color, 52 min.

Jr. High - General Adult
African American Studies, Agriculture, Area Studies, Economics, Education Studies, Environmental, Social Sciences, Urban Studies

Date Entered: 10/11/2012

Reviewed by Jennifer Dean, MALS student, City Univerity of New York (CUNY Graduate Center)

The documentary We Are Not Ghosts tells the story of the city of Detroit through interviews with various artists, educators, small business owners, social advocates and local farmers. The film focuses primarily on the future of the city through initiatives such as urban farming which attempt to revitalize the economically devastated area after the withdrawal of the auto factories which provided the primary employment for the area. Filmmakers Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young seem to be constantly struggling to show Detroit in the best possible light. One interview subject, Sterling Toles, a sound artist who works with young people, in acknowledging the vulnerability of the city spins this polemic into a positive assertion by remarking, “Privilege can be debilitating because you have so many resources that you never have an opportunity to explore your true capacity.” The vulnerability and crises of Detroit are touched upon at the beginning of the film in a short tour of the city by a local teacher and home owner which depicts foreclosed homes and towards the end of the film with a short sequence on violence in the city but for the most part the troubles of Detroit are glossed over.

We Are Not Ghosts touches on many important issues, urban farming as a solution for economic revival, art as an expression to address and combat social ills, police injustice, the importance of education in revitalizing a community, and the ramifications of outsourcing and loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States. Ultimately the story is the arc of a city, Detroit, from its heyday to its demise and its attempts to rise from the ashes. Unfortunately trying to grapple with so many important issues in a 52-minute documentary means that no one issue receives appropriate attention or analysis. The filmmakers have clearly chosen to only tell the tale through the words of their interview subjects, not including any voice-over, but the subject would benefit from context – historical and analytical. I would like to recommend this film because I think the subjects are important and some of the interviews are worth viewing but it serves more as a promotional video for Detroit than an appropriate video for academia. To compare it to the feature-length documentary Detropia may be unfair since We Are Not Ghosts tackles the same subject but does not have the same production values—but Detropia is not only a cinematically superior film but also manages to take a more in-depth look at similar issues.