A significant number of Baby Boomers and Millennials are moving back into America’s downtowns looking for a new American Dream. What they seek is walkable urbanism – a vibrant urban place where they can walk to the important destinations of life. This new life is downsized and sustainable, but not without its challenges as cities struggle with twenty-first century problems. DOWNTOWN focuses on Springfield, Missouri and its growing urban population.
Interview with Writer/Director Andy Cline
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I’ve been interested in urban issues for many years now. I’ve been involved in alternative transportation advocacy, and I am a planning and zoning commissioner in Springfield, Missouri. Originally, I thought I would write a book on the topic of millennials and baby boomers moving back into urban areas, as my wife and I have done. But I like learning new things, and I have always wanted to learn to make documentary films. I teach journalism in the Department of Media, Journalism & Film at Missouri State University. We have many students who major in media production and digital film. So I asked a few to help with the Downtown project and teach me what they know about filmmaking. An enthusiastic group of students stepped forward. Two years later we have a movie that I hope will inform others about this migration back to cities and, perhaps, encourage a few to give it a try.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Are you sick of owning a home? Cutting grass? Raking leaves? Fixing expensive systems when they breakdown? Are you tired of spending so much time in a car going about your daily routine? Do you ever wonder if there’s more to life than what you can see from the windshield of your car? Would you like to spend less money on living expenses and more money just living? Would you like to be a part of the solution to climate change? Would it be fun to walk to work or to your favorite restaurant?
If you can answer yes to a few of these questions, my film is for you.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Poorly! This film has very a narrow focus and is a little pedantic. But, then, I’m a little pedantic, so…
It does, however, speak to the general yearning of people looking for a better life somewhere other than their current circumstances. I think people can get trapped in particular lifestyles and think that it’s just the way it is. Downtown tries to show that there is a good choice to make when suburban life seems unsustainable both financially and mentally.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
With documentaries, often the script is last thing that’s finished prior to post-production. I approached this film as a journalist – not necessarily a good way to handle it. So I spent far too much time interviewing far too many people and then was forced to go looking for a story to tell in endless, mind-numbing hours of video. It’s not a film making technique I’d recommend going forward. Several themes emerged as my editor and I reviewed the footage. And those themes became the script, and the film followed the script closely. The film ended up being a bit different than I had supposed at the start.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Surprisingly, mostly positive. All I can see are the mistakes, although I am proud of it. Most of the audiences that have seen it so far have been primed to accept the premise of the migration to cities as a good thing. The real test will be to show it to a theater full of committed suburbanites.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I’m genuinely surprised when anyone says they like it. I’m not being humble. I think there are many moments in the film that should try the patience of the average viewer.
Further, I’m pretty invested in the point of view of the film. And I interviewed people I admire and take cues from. I’ve created a neat little bubble for this film.
I could use some negative reactions.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
First, I do want to communicate to people how important the migration back to the cities is for a number of economic and social reasons. But it’s also time that Downtown face audiences that will be more critical. And I don’t mean pointing out some obvious mistakes. I mean audiences that will engage with the topic and challenge what it means that some boomers and millennials are moving into cities. That’s not a socially, politically, or economically innocent migration. It creates its own set of challenges for urban areas. For example, gentrification. I don’t cover that very important challenge at all.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I don’t think distribution is in the future for Downtown. As soon as we’ve exhausted our festival entries (waiting to hear from two more), I’ll likely put it up on Vimeo for free distribution. If would be cool to have a streaming service buy it, such as Netflix. But I have no idea how that even works. And with my teaching duties at MSU, I really don’t have the time to find out. Perhaps with my next film. My student team and I have begun another feature-length project. There’s no sense learning all that we learned from Downtown and then not putting it to use.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I’d like it help encourage the powers-that-be in Springfield, Missouri to keep pushing to make our downtown livable. Our city suffers a terrible brain drain as college graduates leave for more interesting places. There’s no reason Springfield can’t be the kind of place that attracts young professionals and the creative class. The last scene in the film is speaking directly to Springfield – although the suggestions are universal in the American context: Make your downtown livable first, then the young professionals and creative class will come.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
How can we get people out of their cars and onto their feet (or on a bicycle or in a bus)?
The most pressing point made by everyone we talked to is the need for walkability. What flows from that is a host of good things: better health, better economic activity, better community.
But Americans love their cars. Or think they do. That’s the relationship we have to break.
Would you like to add anything else?
My wife and I moved to downtown Springfield four years ago after our daughter graduated from high school. We downsized and never looked back. It was among the best decisions of our lives. I’d like people to see that possibility for themselves through the Downtown documentary.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
The Carbon Trace Productions team is busy on several projects now since the team has grown from a rag-tag group of 5 students to 25 students. Here’s a list of current projects:
Riding the Trans-Siberian Rail Road (working title) is a documentary short now in post-production.
The Student Debt Crisis (working title) is a feature-length documentary currently in production.
Interview: October 2016
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Downtown: A New American Dream
Length: 78 minutes
Director: Andy Cline
Producer: Chelsea Eichholz
Writer: Andy Cline
About the writer, director and producer:
Andy Cline is an associate professor in the Department of Media, Journalism & Film at Missouri State University.
Chelsea Eichholz is a graduate student studying film production at Missouri State University,
Key cast: Shannon Cay Bowers and Shane Franklin are the hosts.
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): Any of these are welcome to contact me.
Funders: Doug & Linda Roller Foundation
Made in association with: Ozarks Mountain Media and the Missouri State University Department of Media, Journalism & Film
Release date: 7 May 2016