Flint, Michigan, is a community still on the brink. A year after officials began urging citizens not to drink the city’s tap water due to a high concentration of lead, the state environmental agency has said that 90 percent of recent tests showed levels bellow the threshold for alarm. But many residents still refuse to drink from the tap, and others are still wary of using the water to bathe, nervous about a bacterial outbreak.
But despite the tragedy surrounding the crisis, filmmaker Brian Schulz has been documenting people struggling to hold on to the community they love. While the government’s effort to replace the lead-based pipe that supplies drinking water is barely underway, residents beam with optimism about the city they want Flint to become. His film For Flint is a portrait of resilience in the face of catastrophe as neighbors fight for the place they call home. We caught up with Schulz to chat about the project, now being funded on Seed & Spark to ensure an early-2017 release, and what he learned from his time in Flint.
What made you want to make a film about the crisis in Flint?
I was devastated when I first learned about the Flint water crisis. I was sad and angry all at the same time. I knew I had to channel my emotions into something positive for this community that had been through so much. The current struggle didn’t seem fair, and I wanted to give them a voice that had not been heard prior. Most of the Flint news focuses on their hardships. I wanted to be different and go positive. The water crisis is just the backdrop to the film’s three Flint neighbors living inspirational lives in the wake of desperation. It’s a microcosm for the greater good within Flint.
Tell me about the major challenges in putting this project together?
Aside from the Flint-area snowstorm that we encountered on the ten-hour drive from New York City, once we were on the ground, everything ran pretty smoothly from a production standpoint. The neighbors of Flint could not have been more gracious and open in telling an optimistic story about their hometown. The biggest obstacle, as with most indie film projects, is finding the funds to tell your story. Film is not a cheap medium, but I surrounded myself with great professionals who believed in the message. We’re still shy of crucial funding that will allow us to give Flint the best film possible. We’d also like to identify a strategic brand partner that can take our story filled with hope and optimism to the next level. Unfortunately, I don’t have any CMOs on speed dial.
This is a story that has been widely covered across traditional as well as social media. What don’t we know about Flint?
The biggest aspect of Flint that I don’t think the general population knows about is the residents’ inspirational spirit. They were first rocked by the General Motors exodus in the 1990s, and then they were dealt an even bigger blow with the lead water health concern. Yet, in the face of these set backs, there is a resiliency there that I didn’t know existed. It’s no wonder there are so many world-class athletes who call Flint home. The same determination and grit that these athletes possess is the same mindset that will get Flint through this latest setback.
What do you want this film to accomplish?
I always like to say that we’re a small film with a very big megaphone. I want audiences and the public to see the good coming out of Flint (not often covered by the national news,) which will hopefully rally them around this community so it can begin to flourish again. Documentaries are great for raising social awareness. Our whole production team hopes this film continues to keep the Flint conversation fresh and relevant so lawmakers can deliver the Flint assistance this community sorely needs.
Obviously, people still live in Flint, and not everyone has access to potable water. How can people help?
My biggest wish for this film is to generate a ground swell of support that puts Flint’s recovery at the forefront of our national agenda. We’ve come too far as a nation to let a lead water crisis befall one of our great industrial cities. For most, Flint isn’t in their backyard. It wasn’t in mine. But there is no reason why Americans can’t support their fellow neighbors no matter their zip code. I encourage all citizens to keep asking the questions of how our country can quickly and safely help Flint.
You are raising funds on Seed & Spark. Why?
Seed & Spark is a fabulous network built on the film and television community. Their approach is simple: provide a crowd-sourced platform where funding and attention can take a production to the next level. Community is so important in our own production backstory, which lives on through our main subjects: Valorie, Ryan, and Leon. I enlisted my buddy Will Taylor, who’s a fabulous cinematographer for NFL Films and the NBA, and he jumped at the opportunity to fuel up his SUV and trek out to Flint. I’ve partnered with a terrific Brooklyn production company called Spacestation, led by Matt Mills and Chris Vivion. Matt and Chris are amazing storytellers and great champions for docs and content that deliver a strong message. We had a determined and skilled Flint-area production support staff who were all in from the beginning. That was my professional community giving back to Flint. Seed & Spark is great for community building and introducing you to other networks via the narratives we create.
What do you want to work on next?
I’m really fascinated by Wimbledon, and I’m currently working on a pitch that explores a short film there. Now I just have to figure out how to incorporate the iconic tennis village’s name into the title.