By F. Carlton Peeples
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Detroit has one of the most fascinating cultural scenes in the nation. As a city vibrant, lost and now in recovery, it’s a place both raw and refined, with gritty street art and edgy theatre, as well as remarkable museums and architecture. Yet, like many other things about the city, the culture here is subtle and discreet—it requires seeking out—but its impact is and always has been significant.
When a film, such as Tribeca Film Festival’s “Highland Park,” attempts to display the symbiotic relationship the city shares with Detroit, it is imperative that those nuances are captured. That said, the new film by director/co-writer, Andrew Meieran tells a story of a high school faculty lotto pool that places its fate in the lucky numbers they’ve been playing for the past decade. After hearing budget cuts have eliminated all their jobs the teachers and staff come together to effect change in their community.
Shot entirely on location, the film accurately and frankly chronicles the cities of Highland Park and Detroit. Depicting their splendor in the 1950s and 60s as well as the cold steely reality of the current cityscape.
Meieran, 46, studied Rhetoric at University of California Berkley. His background in urban rehabbing and restoration as well a healthy interest in film and storytelling were an organic combination. Led to begin writing this story, the City of Highland Park appeared on the director’s radar. “It ended up coming up through my research, it’s the quintessential rustbelt city.”
Highland Park’s McGregor Public Library became the focal point in the movie as the film progressed. “The library came up and it was a rags to riches to rags cycle that happened in this tightly knit little town that’s surrounded by Detroit; a larger version.”
Meieran says his experience was a labor of love. “Learning how to do [new] things as we go, it was the quintessential indie film. We shot on film and the logistics in Detroit were tough. However, I’d rather learn all of that and put [those lessons] together and use it to become a better film maker.”
Shot at a time when the film industry in Michigan brought promise of new jobs and growth that quickly disappeared, the process was, “painful when going through.” It became a very personal experience for the cast that included Danny Glover, Billy Burke, Rockmond Dunbar, and Kimberly Elise. The labor intensive project took 18 months from active preproduction to wrap.
The production itself experienced the same developments that the industry as a whole went through during filming. Funds disappeared as state tax incentives dried up during post production, as some scenes had to be reshot.
For an ensemble cast in unfamiliar city a stark reality is that if it happens here it could happen anywhere because Highland Park, at one point, was the epitome of success.
“It’s critical to ask where do we go from here,” Meieran said.