Taking Back Detroit – 1980 Political Documentary
In the 1970s and early 1980s Detroit was the setting for an unusual development in U.S. urban politics, as voters elected two socialists to citywide office. TAKING BACK DETROIT examines these people and their organization against the backdrop of a city in extreme economic crisis.
The film profiles City Council member Ken Cockrel and Recorders Court Judge Justin Ravitz. They discuss the challenges they face, and the vision they bring to their work.
Cockrel and Ravitz and their political organization, DARE, opposed the accepted agenda for Detroit – tax abatements for industry, federal money for developers, cuts in city services, abandonment of older neighborhoods. They emphasize that the city could be made to serve its residents first – though not surprisingly the film shows that promoting this idea was no simple task.
“Outstanding potential for use in social studies classes and in college urban studies courses. Excellent for defining issues and provoking debate.”—EFLA Evaluations
“Given the revived interest in the global history of socialism… coupled with the encroaching financial and urban crisis ‘Taking Back Detroit’ is a film that can be surprisingly relevant and up-to-date… It fills an important lacunae in the typical boom-and-bust narratives of Detroit…. It shows that Detroit’s decline was also largely ‘beyond the color line.’ [And] it is a viable addition to the typical accounts of American socialism that tend to paint it as merely ‘cultural’ and eschew the questions of economy.”—Anthropology Review Database (December, 2010)
“Some of the most fascinating sequences of Stephen Lighthill’s marvelous documentary–aspects that make it an uplifting, inspiring vision of Detroit when it could’ve easily been depressing–are when Cockrel and Ravitz recognize their constituency isn’t inside City Hall: it’s ordinary folks on the outside, in the redlined and block-busted neighborhoods.”—Andy Merrifield, Antipode
Blue Ribbon Winner, 1981 American Film Festival