I Have Always Been A Dreamer

I Have Always Been A Dreamer


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

You wouldn’t think it, but as one interviewee in I Have Always Been A Dreamer puts it, “the world is awash with money”. And it is; unprecedently so, in fact. But we live in an age in which a recession is mistakenly taken to be the disappearance of money, as opposed to its exponential concentration in the hands of an ever-decreasing few. The problem, as ever, is to do with distribution.

North Carolina-based digital media artist Sabine Gruffat’s ethno-topographic essay film probes this dichotomy by looking at two sides of a coin: Detroit, USA and Dubai, UAE. While the former was once the world’s hub of automobile manufacturing and is now an industrially decimated and drastically depopulated city struggling to survive an economic climate indifferent to human need, the latter has apparently sprung up overnight into a paradise of private enterprise. Respectively, the two cities symbolise an industry old and an industry new, and their juxtaposition within the present context of a failed transglobal capitalism makes for a quietly remarkable film that benefits from well-selected interviews with historians, businesspeople, artists and scholars.

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Gruffat’s tale of two cities begins with someone repeatedly analogising Detroit to a corpse: just as a dead body only resembles a living person, so Detroit is only “like a city” – one to which tourists travel to snap pics before leaving again, as if the place has reinvented itself into a theme park. Suggestions of a Baudrillardian utopia chime well with Dubai, of course, a place of multimillion-dollar snow domes and an extravagant dinosaur park funded by the likes of Disney and the British Museum. Together, the worlds-apart locales are simulacra of the boom-bust volatility that prevails within any for-profit system. Indeed, at one point the link between construction booms and financial busts is made explicit.

Dreamer's title is lifted from a re-enacted speech given during tours at The Henry Ford, "America's Greatest Destination", a museum celebrating one of capitalism's great pioneers, who chose Michigan’s largest city to build a profitable industry that has since been outsourced in the pursuit of less organised and therefore cheaper labour – much to the expense of its human population. Dubai, in contrast, grows in terms of pure real estate, a city built upon a service industry, where one hotel accommodates 6,500 rooms’ worth of clients. Master your American Dream, and you may just get to stay there.

Is Dubai a dream? Is Detroit a nightmare? Bolstered by Nathan Halverson and Stephen Vitiello’s ominous electro-drones, Bill Brown and Ben Russell’s 16mm cinematography reconfigures these disparate landscapes as alien, as otherworldly. This seems fitting: in a world whose geography is conceived by neoliberalism in temporal terms, where economies and cultures are described as “backward” or “advanced” on the same inevitable trajectory towards globalisation, I Have Always Been A Dreamer is both a travelogue and an excursion through time. In some way, its images already resemble found-footage science-fiction.

Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2013
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A documentary travelogue and portrait of two cities in contrasting states: Dubai and Detroit.

Director: Sabine Gruffat

Starring: Jerry Herron, George Karyotidis, Mitch Cope, Constance Bodurow, Freda G. Sampson, Colin Branson, Co-lab Creative, Matt Kelson, Douglas Crawford, Toufic Araman

Year: 2012

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: US, United Arab Emirates


Bradford 2013

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