Sometimes Cities: Urban America Beyond NYC

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When you hear “sustainability,” do you immediately think “green” or “environmental”? When you hear “urban” or “city” do you only think about the usual, major metropolitan areas?

Anthology Film Archives’ film series “Sometimes Cities: Urban America Beyond NYC” challenges New Yorkers to look beyond traditional notions of urban sustainability and seek inspiration from community struggles and organizing victories in the face of economic austerity throughout the country. The series runs June 14-17 and intentionally features five films that focus on urban locations too often overshadowed in national debates, including Cleveland, St. Louis, and Detroit. For the full series schedule, visit the Anthology Film Archives website.

Requiem for Detroit (2010, 75 min) highlights Detroit’s current struggles amidst major transformations and upheavals, including the restriction of electricity to half of the existing city. All over the world, people who care about the future of cities look to Detroit as both a contemporary case study and litmus test for the challenges and opportunities facing post-industrial cities in the U.S. Director Julien Temple presents the viewer with encouraging moments of urban resilience, highlighting the influx of artists and urban farmers into Detroit, while also acknowledging the stark realities facing many urban residents.

Sometimes City (2011, 80 min) features residents of Cleveland talking about their hometown: what they love, what they wish was different, and ideas they have for change. Cleveland, a city that features homes for sale for $1,900 even today, may seem like a world away to some New Yorkers, but the economic struggles facing many city residents will surely resonate. Director Tom Jarmusch utilizes documentary, home movies, fiction, and personal stories to weave a tapestry of contemporary urban experiences.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: An Urban History (2011, 83 min) chronicles the impact of large-scale public housing on the post-WWII U.S. city. Directed by Chad Freidrichs, the notorious Pruitt-Igoe development in St. Louis became a widely recognized symbol of the failure of architects, politicians, and policy makers to develop viable and functional public housing. New Yorkers in attendance might reflect on their city’s own historic and current struggles to develop sustainable public housing that meets the needs of residents, policy makers, and designers alike.

The “Sometimes Cities PGM” double feature includes two shorter documentaries – Tighten Your Belts, Bite the Bullet and Taking Back Detroit.

Tighten Your Belts, Bite the Bullet (1980, 48 min) contrasts New York and Cleveland’s response to fiscal crisis and collapse. Featuring then-Mayor Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland and community organizers in Brooklyn, the film chronicles the challenges presented by political administrators and government bureaucracy, as well as victories and lessons learned through grassroots organizing campaigns in both Ohio and New York City.

Taking Back Detroit (1980, 55 min), the second documentary in the Sometimes Cities PGM double feature, looks at the historic election of two socialist candidates to Detroit public office. Perhaps you’re already saturated with election talks as we move through the primary season of 2012, but this film may provide a different perspective on both the limitations and possibilities enabled by local city elections.

Individually, each film highlights unique moments in urban histories as communities struggle to survive and thrive amidst shifting economic and political contexts. As a whole, the series provides an invaluable look at the challenges and opportunities facing U.S. cities today and raises important questions about how to ensure the ongoing viability of urban spaces, a pressing question for New York City.

Anthology Film Archives bills itself as “an international center for the preservation, study, and exhibition of film and video, with a particular focus on independent, experimental, and avant-garde cinema.” To learn more about other AFA screenings and events, please visit their website.

Photo: Garry Owens