Blandine Huk & Frédéric Cousseau, FR 2015, 85'
My Name is Gary
World Premiere
Tue 11.8.2015, 11.00, Cinema Teatro Kursaal
Wed 12.8.2015, 14:00, Palavideo

en / it / de / fr

The steel city, city of fire, most segregated city of the united states, Murder Capital or hidden paradise: Gary, Indiana, USA, is attributed with many nicknames in this city portrait. But often, ghost town seems to be the most fitting moniker for this backwater town just outside of Chicago. Since the 1960s the city has lost more than half of its population; currently 80,000 citizens still live there. As inconsequential as the town might seem, it is still enlightening to investigate the causes and effects of this loss. In Gary, the cracks in America’s shining façade become apparent.

Built quite literally on sand in 1906 on the shores of Lake Michigan, the blue-collar town quickly boomed as an industrial location. Many people from different ethnicities settled here, especially black people from the Southern States, looking to make a living and to be free. But the unwritten, uncompromising law of race segregation was also in effect in Gary: While the police looked on, a young black man was nearly beaten to death for stepping on a “white” beach. When Gary was the first large city to elect a black mayor in 1967, the reaction of the white middle class was appalling: They moved away in droves. Letters to the editor from that time for instance read: «I’ve got noth- ing against black people. But I’d rather burn my house to the ground than let them live here!» The demise of the steel industry was the last straw, and Gary descended into crime and poverty.

The French documentary filmmakers Blandine Huk and Frédéric Cousseau show the consequences of this development with highly aesthetic images of empty rows of shops, never-ending freight trains rattling past them, images of overgrown residential estates with historic buildings whose formerly glorious brick façades are slowly crumbling. And yet, the filmmakers do not succumb to the morbid fascination of ruin porn, which is what Detroit started calling the appeal of urban decay. At all times their gaze succeeds in generating insight – also thanks to the many voices of inhabitants who tell tales from the past and the present. At times they are in the picture, more often their narration, sparingly complemented by archival footage, is in an anonymous off-voice. Eventually, we meet a woman who mows the lawn or paints the doors of abandoned houses, an endearingly absurd act to at least make it look nice. One might silently laugh at her but one also realises that, beyond all the nicknames attributed to the city, for many people Gary is still one thing: home.

Julia Marx