Short ‘For Flint’ takes different angle on water crisis

Documentary tells story of the people helping lift Flint debuts tonight ahead of international rollout

Adam Graham Detroit News Film Critic, DetroitNews

From his home in Brooklyn, New York, Brian Schulz was watching coverage of the Flint water crisis on the news and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. So he did something about it.

The documentary filmmaker came to Flint to see what was happening for himself. He decided to make a film not about the water crisis itself, but about a handful of Flint residents who are helping lift the city in spirit.

His doc, a 17-minute short titled “For Flint,” debuts Saturday at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.

“I knew that I wanted to do a positive story,” says Schulz, a self-described “softie at heart,” on the phone earlier this week from New York. “I was trying to do something different from what we always hear about Flint, which is negative.”

He came to Flint in February 2016 and met with the three individuals who are featured in the film: a former General Motors worker turned potter; an artist who works with found objects; and an ex-con who started a program for local youth. He came back several weeks later and filmed their stories, and returned in May 2016 to put some finishing touches on his project.

Back in New York he worked on the film during the summer. He raised $23,000 through a crowd-funding campaign, short of his $30,000 goal, but enough to complete the film.

In reaching out to backers, he stressed that what happened in Flint could happen anywhere.

“This could be your backyard,” he says. “A lot of my friends live in New York and around the New York area, and other parts of the Midwest or on the West Coast. But this could be anybody; this could be your neighborhood.”

Prior to filming, Schulz’s experience with Flint was limited: He had seen Michael Moore’s “Roger & Me,” and he knew about the Mateen Cleaves-led Flintstones, who led Michigan State University to a national basketball title in 2000.

Sports are a mainstay for Schulz, a former cinematographer and producer for MLB Productions. During his time shooting baseball, he learned an important lesson in documentary filmmaking: you’ve only got one shot to get it right.

After the Tribeca screening, Schulz is taking the film to festivals around the world, and he says he hopes to show the film in Flint sometime before Labor Day.

“I want as many people to see this as possible,” he says.

With “For Flint,” Schulz says he’s trying to do right by a city that has been wronged time and again.

“Everything I had ever heard about Flint was bad: ‘Worst place to live,’ ‘worst place to go.’ I was like, that can’t be true. There has to be another narrative,” he says. “That’s what led me.”

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