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Barbershop Detroit: Life in 'Motown' after Bankruptcy

Barbershop Detroit: Life in 'Motown' after Bankruptcy
From Al Jazeera - July 16, 2017

Detroit, the city where General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were once the major employers, was declared bankrupt in 2013 after decades of decline. Over one million citizens left the city, and "Motown" soon became "ghost town".

Yet, against the backdrop of urban decay, a few diehards stubbornly keep their businesses running. One of them is the barber, Robert (73), who used to be the hairstylist to many Motown artists.

In his barber shop, the old spirit is still alive. Soul music blares from his jukebox and his customers, mostly over 70 years old, swear by the glam Chuck Berry hairdo.

Barber Shop Detroit tells a story of nostalgia and pride against a background of economic recession and reveals how the past can help people get through the present.

As one customer explains: "If you take care of your hair, your hair will take care of you."

FILMMAKER Q&A: Luc Vrydaghs

Al Jazeera: Why did you film a barbershop in Detroit?

Luc Vrydaghs: I like to have a place, a location. Ten or 14 years ago already, I made a series called Gas Station. A gas station is a place where people come to hang around and get away. A barbershop is even more so a place where people come to escape for a few hours. The barber knows everything that happens in the area and everybody comes and sits in the chair, so it's a very interesting meeting point of people.

Detroit is one movie out of a series - I made six movies [about barbershops]. I chose Detroit because I wanted to shoot something in the US, and I think Detroit is a very interesting place at the moment. Detroit is a very good example of the state America is in, because there is a lot of poverty. The real side of the US is a very poor country. Detroit was the first city that went bankrupt in America.

Al Jazeera: How did you come across Robert, the main character?

Vrydaghs:A photographer had already done some research when, before shooting, I went to Detroit and drove for five days around all kinds of areas. We visited 30 or 40 barbershops. It was clear that it had to be Roberto's, because it's a place that had so much history. They are old, so they have lived through different generations and times, like the Motown [era]. That's where I found the idea of telling a story through the older generation and the younger generation, which was a focus point in the movie for me.

Al Jazeera: How do you think the struggles of young and old Detroiters are different?

Vrydaghs:Their struggles are completely different. The youth are not thinking about the same things. I mean, the older guys all had a rough life. They were on the barricades and fighting for their rights. These guys are now all grandfathers, and are all for the values of the family and the good life, because they are older now. But in the past, a lot of them were pimps, they were junkies, they were leading a heavy life. They had a rough life like the youngsters nowadays. What I found very interesting was the older generation complaining about the youngsters with their trousers and they do drugs and this and that, but they did the same when they were young.

Al Jazeera: What are some of the problems that the young generation of Detroiters face?

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