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Gary Hustwit’s Urbanized Screened at the Detroit Film Theatre

by Louis Bach, Communications


The documentary “Urbanized” was shown at the DIA on Tuesday, October 11; director Gary Hustwit took questions after the screening. “Urbanized” is the third of Hustwit’s highly-regarded trilogy of documentaries about design, following “Helvetica” (on the typeface) and “Objectified” (on industrial design of consumer products).

Detroit features prominently in the movie: Detroit’s population decline is addressed between the film’s discussion of the world’s growing slums and Stuttgart’s protests against the expansion of its rail lines. Highlighted in the movie’s coverage of Detroit was Mark Covington and his Georgia Street Community Garden, discussing the grassroots response to the issue of food access and affordability.

Hustwit had previously noted his surprise at the intensity of audience reaction during “Urbanized’s” world premiere in Toronto:

“I’ve screened ‘Helvetica’ and ‘Objectifie’d to live audiences maybe 300 times over the past five years. And occasionally those audiences broke out in laughter if one of our interview subjects had a humorous line. But I have never had an audience spontaneously applauding during the film when someone on screen says something they believe in, which happened about eight times at the premiere! It really blew me away.”

But that level of intensity might seem hardly surprising to us: Detroiters are passionate about their community – isn’t everyone? As Detroiters, we are intimately familiar with the issues that face the city, but “Urbanized” gives us the rare opportunity to put Detroit’s situation in a larger context: not just regional or even national, but global. The interviews and footage in “Urbanized” address trends in urbanization worldwide, not just in America, and it was thought-provoking to observe the audience reaction to urban developments abroad.

Most memorably, the Detroit audience broke into applause during the interview with Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia. His administration overhauled Bogota’s transportation; the film highlighted Bogota’s new bike paths and bus systems. Peñalosa portrayed Bogota’s new-found alternatives to automobiles as a matter of democracy in action, a demonstration of the ideal of equality manifested through an emphasis on the dignity and safety of transportation options that are available to residents regardless of income. Based on the Detroit audience’s reaction, it seems that there’s a demand for those democratic principles to be realized not only in Colombia, but also here in Southeast Michigan.

In an interview with Salon, Hustwit discusses the process of making and screening the film. He mentions Bogota specifically, which might help to explain how it elicited such a strong reaction from the audience at the Detroit Film Theater’s screening:

“But there are definitely some that people respond to when they watch the film. Most of all Enrique Peñalosa, who is the former mayor of Bogota. He’s got some great lines in the film, like ‘There’s no constitutional right to parking.’ He’s really charismatic and has some really commonsense ideas about using the city as a tool to create equality, democracy and social equity.

And Hustwit discusses why Urbanized is, out of his three movies, the one with the most universal and intense appeal:

“I think in a way, of the three movies, ‘Urbanized’ is the most personal. Everyone lives in a city and they know what they like or don’t like about cities. Everybody wants to change their city and make it better, but a lot of people don’t really know how to go about doing that. In terms of the response to the film, I’ve never had a film where people were applauding during the film when there was something that they agree with. That’s something I’ve never experienced.”

Check out Salon’s interview for more from Hustwit.

Watch the trailer for Urbanized here.