Documentary Releases: 12th and Clairmount

With the 50th anniversary of the now world infamous 1967 Detroit riot, arguably the most violent and destructive riot in U.S. history, looming just around the corner as director Kathryn Bigelow’s big Hollywood dramatization of the events heads to it’s Detroit, Michigan premiere, word of mouth of a smaller but decidedly more intimate take on the defining event in Detroit history, 12th and Clairmount, is quietly spreading through the Detroit filmgoing community.  Entitled 12th and Clairmount, the epicenter of the catastrophic riot, this homegrown documentary produced and released by the Detroit Free Press was directed by executive video producer Brian Kaufman and may be the young filmmaker’s first foray into mainstream distribution should his detailed and fascinating memoir about the Detroit riot garner more recognition. 

Comprised of archival newsreel footage, educational shorts and over 400 never before seen home movie reels donated by Detroit residents to the filmmakers, 12th and Clairmount paints a captivating and informative portrait of that fateful day which forever changed the Michigan city’s history and reputation.  Having caught one of the film’s limited theatrical screenings at Cinema Detroit, I can say in just under two hours I became familiarized with nearly every aspect of an event before my time which nearly leveled the city to the ground whose impact is still felt by residents within and outside of Detroit to this very day.

While not offering a clear cut solution to a problem which if people aren’t careful could well happen again, 12th and Clairmount offers a dense overview of the catastrophe from all sides of the equation and most importantly presents the viewpoints of those who lived through it.  Though as a documentary 12th and Clairmount isn’t breaking new ground formally speaking, to have such unprecedented access to 8mm film archives never thought to have existed detailing the riot as experienced by the residents living near or within it is truly remarkable and sets this film apart from other Detroit riot documentaries which came before it. 

As the big budget Hollywood film prepares to make it’s splash in theaters early August, my friendly suggestion as a filmgoer and Michigan resident would be to seek out what is probably the most in-depth portrait of Detroit neighborhoods before and after the rioting released yet.  Functioning as a time capsule for some and a forewarning for others as the city slowly begins to rebuild traction with Michigan residents, 12th and Clairmount is a rare piece of local filmmaking which unlike the upcoming Detroit offers a unique and enlightening point of view on the defining moment in the city’s history as told by the people who lived it.  

- Andrew Kotwicki