Brian Schulz tackles the Flint, Michigan water crisis in a decidedly new and uplifting way. We all remember hearing of this preventable atrocity affecting the area’s population, particularly the elderly and the young, in 2016.”For Flint” brings us into the heart of the city, seeing that through crisis comes a sense of community—much deeper and more important than ever thought possible.
Schulz paints a vivid picture of where Flint is as we look through the broken windows of a factory and the view the abandoned warehouses and the sign above a water fountain “Drink at your own risk.” Not a word needs to be spoken to understand the devastation this town has undergone. But then Schulz counteracts this depressing scenario by introducing us to several “ordinary” citizens of Flint who are determined to make a positive difference in the future of their town. From ex-cons to musicians and artists, the members of the community are reaching out to the younger generation and those who remained to reclaim their city. Their powerful statements about how this tragedy came about are equalled by their strength in moving forward, armed with the empowerment of the arts and kindness. As one young man explained, “We’ve hit the bottom. [There’s] nowhere else to go but to the top.”
This statement is the underlying current of a new generation of hope. Although the once vibrant neighborhoods filled with children’s voices are now hushed and vacant accompanied by a surge in crime, there are those banding together to rise above it all. We see a variety of groups coordinating efforts to educate and stimulate the area, accentuating the positives of Flint and the people within it. Leon, once a part of the crime and drug problem, is now a part of the solution as he reaches out to schools to educate children and encourage others like him to make a positive difference in the future. Valorie finds the art of pottery making directly analogous to Flint. It’s all what you make out of it and through her art and involvement, it will be positive. And finally, Schulz introduces us to Ryan Gregory, an artist of reclaimed objects. He’s also a social organizer, bringing together neighbors and neighborhoods through Thursday night social bike rides and “Living Room Show And Tell” painting projects.
“For Flint” beautifully portrays the meaning of community. While the city has been hit hard, these determined and kind citizens are banding together to not just support one another, but to bring the virtues of this fine city back to the forefront. It’s an uplifting and inspirational story as you root for this town to recover. While it’s true that the water was poisoned and could have been prevented, this film’s focus is on the virtues of its citizens. It’s true that their lives will never be the same again, but their resilience is unmistakable. They are strong and they will come back…together.
I had the opportunity to talk with Schulz about making this short documentary. Surprisingly, he had never been to Flint and had only learned of Flint’s water crisis less than a year and a half ago from then MSNBC’s news reporter Tony Dokoupil. After hearing the report, Schulz said, “I was mad! How could this happen?” He decided to use his skills as a cinematographer to make a difference. He reached out to Dokoupil to begin his research and make connections in the community who opened their welcoming arms to him. Describing himself as a “garrulous Brooklynite,” Schulz found the subjects he needed to convey the story of positivity in Flint.
Schulz’ voice was filled with optimism as he described the town, the unknown gem of the Flint Institute of the Arts, and the beauty even in the dead of winter. He knew he could give a positive voice to the town, creating a more positive perception of Flint. He did so much more than that. We see the true definition of the word “community.”
Schulz’ film premieres on Earth Day, April 22, at the Tribeca Film Festival. Beneath the media’s political coverage, lies on-going problems like Flint’s water and recovery that cannot be forgotten.
For more information about seeing this film at Tribeca Film Festival, go to TribecaFilmGuide