Forged In Flint tells the story of a place, it shows how industry and business can cause reverberations outward to the culture of people that reside locally. However, Forged in Flint’s story is one of the people who live in Flint, and their efforts to change the perception of their city for a better future. DN spoke to the film’s Director Bradley Tangonan about the inception of this project and what he hopes the film will deliver.
What was the genesis for Forged in Flint?
The head of production at Square invited me to direct Forged in Flint as an installment of the Dreams Project, which is a film series created by Square consisting of real-life stories of people whose entrepreneurship creates social and cultural impact.
How was the process of deciding who was to be interviewed? Were there any interviews that didn’t make the cut?
Erin Archuletta, the Director of Community Affairs at Square, happens to be from the area and spearheaded the effort to identify potential subjects for the project. Joel Rash, a Flint entrepreneur and long-time local community leader, also connected us with Flint locals. The creative team at Square then did research to narrow down the list and we as a group pre-interviewed the remaining subjects.
We had many meaningful and substantive conversations with everyone we interviewed and we wanted to include every voice; however, we also felt that too many separate stories would be hard to follow and might make it difficult to convey a clear message. Once we felt we understood what story wanted to be told, we included all of the subjects who helped tell that story concisely and poignantly.
The story that really gripped me the most was the musician turned chef, and then entrepreneur. What drew you to his story specifically as one the centrepieces of the doc?
Having received a Flint local history lesson from Joel Rash, who runs a local music venue called the Local 432, we learned that music has been a rallying point in the downtown Flint community for decades. With this in mind, learning of Tony Vu’s backstory as a touring musician who got his start in Flint keyed us into the possibility of being a major character in the story. Aside from that, every person we spoke to had a personal story about how Tony helped them individually at some point along the way, and it was clear to us that he plays an important role in bringing people together in downtown Flint.
The emphasis in Forged in Flint is on the impact small businesses have to a city’s culture and, specifically, the people that make up that culture, what do you think that impact is?
The people we spoke to all expressed gratitude for the outpouring of goodwill and financial and material assistance from the outside world. At the same time, most people recognized that the people of Flint are the ones who will remain once the dust has settled on the new cycle; as such, the people we interviewed by and large feel that the future of Flint hinges on their ability to strengthen the economic engine of the city. The community ties are important because creating jobs and living wages is a means toward an end, which is thriving together in the long run, socially, culturally, and otherwise.
The strength of short-form documentaries is the ability to amplify voices and engender not just sympathy, but more importantly, empathy.
As a more broad question, what do you think the role of documentarians, like yourself, is in changing the perception of a place like Flint?
We attach a lot of value to the role of media insofar as it might be responsible for change at large. In my opinion, the strength of short-form documentaries is the ability to amplify voices and engender not just sympathy, but more importantly, empathy. In the case of Flint, our hope was that we would be able to empower the people at the center of change in the city to speak loudly and clearly about their efforts to spark a communal resurgence.
What have the residents of Flint and the people you featured in the film, made of it? Do they feel like it’s an honest representation?
The overall feeling has been very positive. I hope to return to Flint to be able to speak with people one-on-one to continue the conversation, as well as find out in more detail how people feel about being in the spotlight, our doc included.
What are you working on now?
Short of identifying specific projects, I’m continuing to seek out opportunities to help tell meaningful stories that are unique to a place and the people of that place.