Impressions of the Ruhr Valley

by Carrie LeZotte

The Ruhr Valley was a major industrial and coal mining region in the valley of the Ruhr river in northwestern Germany.  For the final bit of production of Lean, Mean & Green, we spent two days shooting industrial sites that have been transformed into recreational spaces and developed for new business.  While I knew we were going to photograph these sites and I had done my research on-line and talked to people who had been there, I wasn’t really prepared for what it would feel like traveling through and photographing these environments.

From our base in Düsseldorf, we spent the first day at the Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, which used to be a smelting plant.  The entire site is open to the public to explore and many areas have been developed into recreational spaces like playgrounds for children, climbing walls, gardens, bike paths and water-parks.

The second day we shot at the Ruhr Museum at Zollverein in Essen.  This museum combines a natural museum, archaeological and historical museum all in one place.  We didn’t spend much time inside, but on the grounds of what used to be the Zollverein Coal mine and it all makes up what they call a “World Heritage Site.”

You’d think that having grown up in Dearborn, Michigan, where my first real job was at Greenfield Village, I would have made the connection from industrial ruins to industrial heritage a bit quicker and it wouldn’t take me going to Germany to do it.  I live just a few miles from the Packard plant and it never occurred to me to view it as a cultural heritage site.

The other thing I’m still wrapping my head around is the entire Emscher Landscape Park.  I’m really looking to John to help explain it all in the movie, as this “park” is really the entire redeveloped region with associations and municipalities working together to increase tourism to the area and make it all more livable.  They have this motto. ““Change through culture – culture through change” and the resulting work is visible.  These 53 communities are connected by bike paths!

If you’re planning a vacation, North-Western Germany may not be at the top of your list, but I really encourage you to take a look.  Düsseldorf, where our gaffer/guide/driver Patrick “Paddy” Dosanjh (see video below) is from, is a vibrant city on the Reine River for a more typical tourist experience, but you can easily travel to many of these other areas.  I certainly hope to go back for a film festival in the area, and I can only hope this part of the story will help demonstrate the enormous potential for post-industrial cities!

How do you say, “Zeche Zollverein”? from One of Us Films on Vimeo.

Impressions of Philadelphia

by Carrie LeZotte

So what happens if you live in a dangerous city, but it doesn’t make the list? One of the things I found really compelling about John’s Reimagining Detroit was how he talks about those lists and how they don’t always compare apples to apples.  I read a response from a Philadelphia local, asking how his city didn’t make those top ten most dangerous lists, when the murder and crime rate continues to be high.  It’s the perception of a place that keeps the tourists coming or going, or people moving in and out of a city.  So numbers matter, for sure, but what about those pictures?

As a filmmaker its images that speak to me.  I took a crew to Philadelphia twice.  The first trip was well planned and we shot at a of couple key locations.  The first being Spring Garden on 18th Street, on a beautiful August morning we met and interviewed Bob Grossman of Philadelphia Green when the garden was in its full late-summer glory.  The second day we interviewed Jane Golden of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

I returned to Philadelphia a year later to spent more time with Cesar Viveros (who appears in our Kickstarter video).  I also wanted to photograph more murals and to do so, I pre-scouted on the web and made myself a map through the neighborhoods.  This was a much different experience as we drove through blighted areas just a few miles from the Liberty Bell, Lon and I were asking ourselves which city was safer?  The Philadelphia blight feels so much different with housing stock not only older than Detroit’s, but so much of it right on top of each other.  So different than our blocks of vacancy and long grasses.

Alex Feldmen, who lives in Philadelphia but travels often to Detroit for his work in Midtown with U3 Ventures, told me that some people don’t like the murals because they feel they mark the blighted areas.   I think they are not only beautiful, but incorporate the spirit of a neighborhood in a way that only art can.  So what else to do about the blight?

In addition to community gardens, Philadelphia Green also oversees fence and moving crews that maintain lots, according to zip code, around the city.  This continues to be one of the things that’s impressed me most, as simple posted-rail fences, picked up garbage and cut grass result in an inexpensive way to increase property values and make the neighborhoods cleaner for the people who live there.  As I drive my daughter to school at Detroit Waldorf from our Lafayette Park condo, I wish I was seeing those fences down Vernor and back on Charlevoix.

It’s these images of beauty, transformation and spirit that I hope we show the world with in Lean, Mean & Green.

Cesar Viveros works on a mural in Frankfort with kids from a Boys and Girls Club.

The paint crew from Philadelphia Green, who maintain the fences.

Impressions of Torino

by Carrie LeZotte



When I went looking to make a film about the future of Detroit, I never imagined that I would find myself in Italy.  The story of Torino’s turnaround, from automotive center of Europe to a cultural mecca for history and contemporary art, was inspirational for me in its text form in Reimagining Detroit.  I wasn’t really prepared for how being there made me look at how we embrace our own arts and culture.

Director of photography Lon Stratton and I flew into Torino and took a jet-lagged taxi ride from the airport into the historical center, walking distance from the Mole, which houses the national cinema museum.  What was this graffiti on the buildings?  This didn’t look like Rome.  In one of the pictures attached to this message, you can see the walls of what used to be the Royal Palace, tagged with graffiti – as was the university we went to in order to get a terrific vantage point for shooting La Spina…graffiti you wouldn’t see (at least for long) at Michigan State.  So, while I know many post-industrial cities share the same challenges, seeing graffiti on the Royal Palace made me think about Detroit’s infamous train station.

I really hate those images as being the most iconic of our city.  I’m sure it’s because I’ve been thinking that it represents our failure, instead of a symbol of our success.  Who else was able to build such an amazing structure?  So Tornio got me thinking about it being like a palace.  For us, the scab is only a few decades old, but when it’s a scar from centuries ago…it a mark of experience that has healed.

John, Ann and I all agreed that going to Europe would set this film apart from the rest.  It’s a complex, international story,  our supporters, are the ambassadors.

Please take a minute and make a pledge for a dvd, premiere ticket, or one of the books that inspired the project.  We have just this last week to reach our goal.  Here’s the link to share:

The video is a ride along La Spina, which now connects, instead of separates, the industrial and residential parts of Torino.

Valentino Castellani drives La Spina from One of Us Films on Vimeo.

The exterior cafe photo is where you want to go to enjoy a bicerin, an amazing espresso and chocolate beverage born in Torino, and one of the delights of the trip.  I can’t wait to show more in the movie!