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We Are Not Ghosts

Detroiters are reinventing the old Motor City as a vibrant new self-sustaining and human-scaled city for a post industrial world.

A printer-friendly version of this page 52 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Mark Dworkin, Melissa Young
Produced by Moving Images

"In the voices, work and imagination of Detroiters a new world is taking shape." Sharon Howell, Professor of Communication and Journalism, Oakland University
[Note: Community screenings of WE ARE NOT GHOSTS can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]

Fifty years ago Detroit was booming with two million hard-working people living the American Dream. Then the auto industry crashed and so did the Motor City. Most moved away; whole neighborhoods turned into wastelands. But some didn't give up on the city they love. They had a vision of Detroit as a human-scaled city for a post industrial world, and they are working to make it real.

WE ARE NOT GHOSTS tells their stories: from community businesses, to place-based schools, to thriving urban gardens and spoken word artists. These are the tales of Detroiters remaking their city with vision and spirit.

Among those featured are Jessica Care Moore and Grace Lee Boggs.

Other films by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young are Shift Change, Good Food, Argentina: Hope in Hard Times and Argentina: Turning Around, Net Loss, Another World is Possible, Not for Sale, Gene Blues, Islas Hermanas and Risky Business.

Grade Level: 10-12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2012     Copyright Date: 2012
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-225-X

"In an era which persists in treating cities as disposable, We Are Not Ghosts forcefully reminds us that people are not. Without glossing over the problems facing the people of Detroit, the film paints a collective portrait of surprisingly resilient urban communities, engaged in the inspiring work of inventing a life together in the wake of deindustrialization."
Dr. Gar Alperovitz, Professor of Political Economy, Co-founder of The Democracy Collaborative, University of Maryland, Author, America Beyond Capitalism

"This film is a testament to the human spirit. It's a narrative of perseverance, creativity and innovation as Detroiters build sustainable and healthy communities in the face of long-term deindustrialization and the acute shock of the foreclosure crisis. We Are Not Ghosts has important lessons for scholars, policy makers and practitioners interested in rebuilding our distressed urban landscape."
Dr. Derek Hyra, Associate Professor of Urban Affairs, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Author, The New Urban Renewal: The Economic Transformation of Harlem and Bronzeville

"A compelling documentation of an unparalleled time in American history. Through stories of struggle and strength, loss and love, We Are Not Ghosts captures the possibilities and transformative power of grassroots, community organizing efforts."
Rebekah Farrugia, Assistant Professor of Communication, Oakland University

"We Are Not Ghosts presents a compelling vision for the transformation of contemporary American Society: building new forms of community and cooperation from below in ways that demonstrate that 'another world is possible.'"
Erik Olin Wright, Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, President, American Sociological Association, Author, Envisioning Real Utopias

"We are Not Ghosts offers a welcome antidote to the ruins voyeurism of much media coverage of Detroit. Framed by accounts of urban gardens as a symbol of self-determination, this video interviews a variety of individuals who discuss both the challenges of living in Detroit and the potential of positive action. Strategies they describe include neighborhood block clubs, activism for social justice and self-reliance, and positive thinking about the potential of a much-aligned city."
Dr. June Thomas, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Michigan, Author, Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit

"We are Not Ghosts presents an eye-opening portrait the abandonment of Detroit and gives voice to the on-going struggles of residents to maintain a livable city through locally directed initiatives including urban gardening, the support of locally owned businesses, art projects, and place based education. This video is appropriate for undergraduate urban studies, urban sociology, and planning courses and will surely generate lively debate among students."
William M. Rohe, Professor of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, co-Author, Planning with Neighborhoods

"Aku Kadogo powerfully challenges the national conversation about confronting the decline of Motor City by providing a personal lens into the lives of Detroiters and their neighborhoods. The greening of the city and its positive impacts is chronicled in a moving way to illustrate that there are creative and innovative solutions. This thought-provoking documentary should be viewed by all local policymakers and community advocates engaged in the revitalization the nation's central cities."
Dr. Thomas Vicino, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Northeastern University, co-Author, Cities and Suburbs: New Metropolitan Realities in the US, Author, Transforming Race and Class in Suburbia

"Powerful...It's amazing and no coincidence how often the word 'we' is used in interviews. 'We live here and we love it here', 'We in the lower class right now--We used to be number one.'..The film shows a collective identity that is strong in Detroit. This identity is a foundational identity that leads to action."
William Copeland, Youth Coordinator, Stand Up Speak Out, Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Coalition

"Young and Dworkin describe the movement as 'not trying to restore Detroit's lost glory, but rather to imagine and set forth a more humane and interconnected urban environment'...Will Detroit, the place where Fordist Capitalism went to die, be the birthplace of a new kind of living?...The city's barren land is bearing fruit in new stories on how we can work and live."
Niki Seth-Smith, openDemocracy

"Provocative and invigorating...[It's] can-do attitude makes We Are Not Ghosts a powerful film that celebrates resiliency and exudes hope. Highly recommended."
P. Hall, Video Librarian

"Uplifting...Celebrates the resilience and persistence of those who believe in Detroit."
Sue-Ellen Beauregard, Booklist

"A vision of hope and sustainability, and highly recommended for public and classroom viewing as well as for library documentary collections."
The Midwest Book Review

"Detroiters recount their own history, and show how they're rebuilding the city they love. The next best thing to being there."
YES Magazine

"Weaves together stories of Detroiters who are rebuilding a vibrant community from scratch. The stream of earnest, conversational interviews reveals a spirit of self-sufficiency, interconnectedness and pride among those leading the revitalization. Their stories demonstrate the positive change arises from reframing challenges as opportunities."
Ellen Jakubowski, Alternatives Journal

"We Are Not Ghosts manages to capture a spirit in Detroit that most don't even see. In the voices, work and imagination of Detroiters a new world is taking shape."
Sharon Howell, Professor of Communication and Journalism, Oakland University

"This film beautifully captures how creative, generous and caring we humans can be, especially when we're in very difficult circumstances. Even though the citizens of Detroit have been abandoned, ignored and discounted, this film presents soaring testimony to the fact that we humans can get through hard times and insurmountable challenges when we stick together. No where is this better demonstrated than in the gardens, projects and people blooming in Detroit."
Margaret Wheatley, Author, Leadership and the New Science, Turning To One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future and Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time

Select your institution type

DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
Includes scene selection and subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

The Producer's Website
Host a community screening
Jessica Care Moore Performances
Jessica Care Moore's Facebook Page
Grace Lee Boggs Website
Boggs Center Website
Detroit Community of Hope Website

Awards and Festivals
Langston Hughes African American Film Festival

African-American Studies
American Studies
Local Economies
Performing Arts
Social Justice
Social Psychology
Urban Studies

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... more Reviews

"We Are Not Ghosts comes not to bury Detroit, but to praise the resilient people who are giving the city new life through creative, empathetic community involvement. More than fresh vegetables are available in the community garden and public farmers' market; hopes for the future grow here too. Part of this engaging film's power comes from its depiction of cross-generational community action; we see youth, families, and neighbors working together. Elders such as Grace Lee Boggs and younger community activists and artists such as Myrtle Thompson Curtis and Jessica Care Moore share wisdom and a kind of tenacious optimism that viewers will find inspiring."
Zola Mumford, Curator, Langston Hughes African American Film Festival

"Hopeful...An underdog tale of a devastated city whose long-suffering inhabitants have decided that they are no longer going to wait around for the police or politicians to fix things."
Jonathan Stoner, The Rapidian

"What is the future of formerly industrial cities and the millions of people who live there, aside from being systematically impoverished, walled off, and kept under surveillance? How will they thrive, not just survive? We Are Not Ghosts has some refreshing and inspiring answers to these questions by people committed to improving the lives of their communities, and beyond that, redefining what a city can be...This film deserves a wide audience. It will generate stimulating discussions among high school and college students, community groups, labor unions, environmental groups, and faith-based organizations. The interviews and projects will resonate with people in Akron, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Newark, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and many other cities faced with the devastation and challenge of de-industrialization."
Gwyn Kirk, co-Author, Women's Lives: Multicultural Perspectives

"The teachers, entrepreneurs, community leaders and agricultural experts interviewed in the film are focused in harnessing positive energy and working towards a better tomorrow. Indeed, the can-do attitude on display here results in a documentary that is provocative and invigorating."
Phil Hall, Film Threat

"A timely documentary that offers a unique narrative and forces its viewers to grapple with the tough questions that center on how willing we are to sustain our own communities...Provocative and invigorating...Will engage stimulating conversation...Rather than retreating into the darkness, these residents are strengthening their voice and laying claim to the notion that they will not disappear."
Frederick Hunter, Jr., Teaching Sociology

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