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How We Saved Detroit: Pensions and Picassos, is a documentary, live performance with audience discussion and a call to action project.

The Story

The story is the compelling account of the tremendous struggle between lawyers, judges, bankers, union leaders, politicians, the philanthropic community, and the everyday people of the city as they fought to save Detroit. The battle to rescue this iconic city pulled together those who believed in its future despite their differences, those forced to invest in its future to protect their own self-interest, and those trapped in the middle praying for its future.

In 2013, Motown hit bottom when the city filed for bankruptcy, the largest municipal in American history. But how did we get here and how did years of racial polarization and financial mismanagement set the stage for Detroit’s downfall?
How We Saved Detroit: Pensions and Picassos takes the audience on an epic journey that explores the city’s financial struggles, questionable deals, broken promises and need for a bold new plan.

The project examines Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s efforts to seek unprecedented sacrifices from retirees and union leaders while fending off Wall Street who demanded their money back. We explore Governor Rick Snyder’s efforts to convince a state legislature to participate in a plan, where there was no real desire. We take an inside look at the phone calls, meetings and legal maneuvers, as the city considered liquidating a jewel, the Detroit Institute of Arts, whose world-class collection became an object of desire for the city's numerous creditors. We gain deeper understanding into how Judge Gerald Rosen brokered the now famous Grand Bargain.

Finally, we spend time with retirees like Shirley Lightsey of the Detroit Retired City Employees Association and Cecilly McClellan of the Detroit Concerned Citizens and Retirees, who were faced with the possibility of an epic personal disaster or at long last, a powerful city with new hope.

The Community Engagement
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Pop-up Theatre

The live performance component of the How We Saved Detroit project, fuses film and theatre. Actors strategically placed throughout the audience perform immediately after the screening a seamless continuation of the documentary’s themes. The pop-up theatre will add additional understanding while echoing the objectives of the film, allowing for a different point of view of the missing stories that help fill in the complicated narrative of the bankruptcy, the city and the Detroiters who endured it. It will also transition the audience from the untold stories of the City of Detroit and past financial stress to an opportunity to review of their own financial health.

The screening of the documentary and pop-up theatre performance with be presented through a series of community events. These events will be hosted in select theaters, churches, community centers, museum and college campuses throughout Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Big City Films believes the impact of
How We Saved Detroit: Pensions and Picassos will provide its audiences with a deeper understanding of how the bankruptcy effected everyone and is still effecting everyone in metro Detroit while serving as a cautionary tale for audiences across the country.

How We Saved Detroit: Pensions and Picassos is a story of redemption and hope; a documentary that gives a sweeping account of the financial ruin, backroom intrigue, personal strife, heartache and political rebirth in the struggle to reinvent one of America’s great cities, Detroit, Michigan.

Why Tell This Story

The problem is that “reality is what we take to be true,” David Bohm, pioneering physicist 1977.
At the intersection of reality and perception is a new truth about Detroit. A truth we explore in the documentary How We Saved Detroit: Pensions and Picassos.

The story of Detroit is not the one dimensional perception of a city in decline and weakness, so familiar to millions. This is a story that presents a multi-faceted picture of a city that faced with impossible odds has the strength to pick itself off of the mat of bankruptcy and thrive; a city that survives time and again on the strength and determination of its people, workers, friends and neighborhoods that stand together to overcome challenges and perception; a city that can once again be an inspiration for the country.

The project will also serve as an educational tool, providing metro area Detroiters, a deeper understanding of the truths of the bankruptcy and how those truths continue to effect their daily lives. Reframing the conversation about Detroit and its bankruptcy is critical to us moving forward.
How We Saved Detroit: Pensions and Picassos is a story of a city rising from the ashes. It is the kind of Detroit story that needs to be told.

Lifelong Detroiters

As Lifelong Detroiters, writer/producer/director, Bruce Harper and the Big City Films team have a deep desire to tell the often untold stories of Detroit, stories best told from the inside. During the Detroit bankruptcy Bruce had a ringside seat, working at the NBC affiliate in Detroit. The nightly bankruptcy saga, frequent conversations with newsroom personnel and unclear perception of the events, left Bruce wanting more. Now, running Big City Films, the untold stories of the bankruptcy is part of what he wants to add to the dialogue.