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I Have Always Been a Dreamer

What do Detroit and Dubai have in common? A lot more than you would think, according to this experimental documentary by Sabine Gruffat. Both cities are substantially underpopulated, the former because it has lost more than half its population since 1950, the latter because it is the subject of a boom so intense that apartments are going up far faster than any actual current demand.

The title comes from a speech by Henry Ford, whose automotive business solidified Detroit’s status as one of America’s foremost cities a century ago. The film opens with a hypnotic tracking shot of some of the cities’ skyscrapers, their facades magnificent despite the occasional wear that reminds us that many of them are largely unoccupied. The film moves between Detroit and Dubai, sometimes in a way that leaves us unaware of precisely where we are at the moment, a device amplified by Gruffat’s overlapping soundtrack.

If Detroit is haunted by the people who no longer live there, Dubai looks like a nightmare of irrational overdevelopment, exacerbated by its artificiality: It has no common gathering spaces, with life expected to take place within its endless walls.

Shot on 16-millimeter, Gruffat’s film values visuals over commentary. While it doesn’t lack for intelligent and insightful discussion, it is provided by off-camera speakers who are unidentified until the end credits. Even when its images feel random, the whole is seldom less than spellbinding.

I Have Always Been a Dreamer will be screened this Friday at 8:30pm at Hallwalls (341 Delaware Avenue). Filmmaker Sabine Gruffat will be present for a Q&A afterward.

Watch the trailer for I Have Always Been a Dreamer

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