Dr. Andy Cline set out to write a book about the changing landscape of urban communities — particularly the mass migration of suburban residents to more central neighborhoods within walking distance of commerce. That idea evolved, and now he will soon release the first cut of his full-length documentary film, “Downtown”.
A 15-minute version, title yet to be determined, will be submitted to the New Urbanism Film Festival. If accepted it will show in Los Angeles Oct. 8-11.
Students become the teachers
Cline, an associate professor in media, journalism and film, recruited several former and current students to help him complete the film project. A photojournalist in a former life, he said he admittedly knew little about filmmaking before beginning “Downtown.” He has relied on the expertise of his crew to teach him the ropes. What he does know is a good story when he sees it.
Urban renewal at crux of trend
The New Urbanism movement is not terribly new. For the last three decades, people have been fighting the sprawl of suburbia and advocating for sustainable living. Many larger cities have reverted back to its roots of mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods.
Springfield is finally catching up.
Cline said baby boomers — his generation — and millennials are flocking to downtown areas to escape the confinement that comes with maintaining landscaping and driving miles into town for work and entertainment.
“It doesn’t take many from America’s two largest generations doing a thing to make a trend,” he said. “And in a place like Springfield, the movement of 250 to 500 people can cause a Heers, a Sterling, a McDaniel to get built. They can’t build stuff fast enough.”
Springfield exemplifies national struggle
“Downtown” will detail the difficulties and opportunities metropolitan areas face as more residents seek out sustainable, human-scale communities. The scope of the documentary’s reporting is national, Cline said, but the stories are based in Springfield, a microcosm of the trend at large.
“Springfield, while it’s not Portland, Oregon, it’s also not the armpit of America. It’s somewhere in the middle. We are struggling with the same things that many urban areas are struggling with, and similar things are happening here in terms of this trend.”
One interesting topic explored in “Downtown” is ways trust is established in urban areas where people of all socio-economic backgrounds converge. How do you create an environment where all feel comfortable to work and play?
Research develops from filmmaking experience
Cline will be on sabbatical for the fall semester to wrap up the full-length version of “Downtown,” as well as to explore the First Amendment issues he’s encountered as a documentary filmmaker.
“As a journalist I am used to operating in public with complete freedom. Point a camera at anything I want to point a camera at. Well, boy, did I find out that doesn’t go with documentary filmmaking. But my contention is that it should. It is more like journalism than it is like movie-making.”
He said he hopes his sabbatical research will result in more First Amendment protections granted to documentary filmmakers.
Turning this experience into an MSU course
Cline said his work on “Downtown” has inspired him to incorporate documentary filmmaking into his work as an educator. He’s developing two new film projects to work on with students as part of classes offered at Missouri State.
Next summer, he and geography professor Dr. Paul Rollinson will take a group of students on a study away trip to the Trans-Siberian Railway. His students will film the trip.
He will also begin work on a full-length documentary about the impending student debt crisis and the potential it has to undermine the economic well being of an entire generation.
Donate to the cause
Cline has funded the making of “Downtown,” produced by his company Carbon Trace Productions, mostly out of pocket. He has received in-kind donations from individuals and from the Doug and Linda Roller Foundation. Visit the MSU Foundation site to make a donation to the project. Contact Dr. Cline by email for more information about “Downtown” or future classes associated with his projects.