Not long ago, it was reported that a group of investors wanted to transform the poorly maintained Belle Isle Park, a 982-acre island in Detroit, into a neoliberal paradise. The island would become a semi-independent commonwealth that had no personal or corporate income tax. It would take $300,000 to be a part of this utopia. To make this happen, private investors would pay the cash-strapped city $1 billion for the island. Clearly, Detroit is now a city with all of its glory closed in the past and its future as open and as blank as a white screen. Onto this screen, all manner of fantasies are being projected. One such fantasy can been seen in the slow but beautifully photographed The Men of Dodge City, a film shot and directed by the same person, Nandan Rao.
The story: Three men from the Northwest move into an abandoned Detroit cathedral with the dream of transforming it into an arts center/paradise. The men are young, the space is huge, and there are so many possibilities, so many ideas, so many rooms and things to do, that ultimately nothing happens. The young men—one of whom is played by Zach Weintraub, director of the excellent film The International Sign for Choking—roam the ruins of the cathedral and the city. (Sophia Takal, the star of Choking, is also in Dodge, playing pretty much the same role—a woman Weintraub is somewhat romantically attached to.) Occasionally, the young men encounter ghosts: a middle-class white woman, a working-class black man, a German executive staying in a postmodern hotel. They also try to start an art project that involves laptops. At one point, they raise a chandelier made of colorful school chairs to the ceiling. But all of this activity ends up nowhere. The impression we get from the film as a whole is that the city is cold and decaying majestically. Northwest Film Forum, March 22–28.