Wearing a red floral face mask, a woman stands in the middle of a street with her eyes closed then looks up toward the sky.
It’s a striking image in a new short film called “Til We See The Sky” by The Eightfold Collective, and one that director Nick Stachurski points out as one of the film's most powerful. The shot breaks “the fourth wall,” a technique not often used, he says.
When directing the film, Stachurski told the woman, Edna White, mother of producer Bre’ann White, to “imagine the 'camera lens' is anyone who has ever doubted you or doubted Detroit. Make them know you see them and you are watching.”
A majority of the film was shot in Jefferson Chalmers, where Stachurski and White live, Stachurski says, adding shooting the film was a “bonding experience to bring the neighborhood together during a time when everyone felt so isolated.”
“I bought a house here a few years ago and was able to get close with my neighbors. When I decided to do this film during the pandemic I simply called my neighbors and asked if they wanted to be involved. We shot the majority of the film on a long lens so we were able to capture close up images from afar while still practicing social distancing.”
A goal of the film is to spark discussion. Stachurski recently posted on his Instagram account “To my white friends and community… Finding your voice to speak up for black rights can be confusing. If you want to speak up but don't know how feel free to talk with me. I admit I am still learning but the first step is talking with others about this important issue.”
“Til We See the Sky” is available today on Eightfold TV’s Vimeo, Facebook, and Instagram TV. Stachurski answered a few questions for Model D ahead of its release.
Model D: Can you share the history of how this film came about? What is the inspiration and why now?
Nick Stachurski: The history of Detroit has changed vastly over the past century. It has faced countless moments of hardships and injustice, economic and political ups and downs, but a sense of optimism and pride for the city remains in the hearts of many of those who live here. Our goal with this film was to create a conversation around the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on Detroit and African Americans, and the spirit that held on, even as the worst pandemic in modern history ravaged its neighborhoods. As a creative I could not sit still and let this moment in Detroit go untold. In my style of filmmaking I always chose a cinematic approach and hope to provide positivity in the message. Some of the most important times for storytelling are amidst adversity. We couldn't just sit in our homes when we knew we could provide hope through art.
Model D: What does the title "Til We See the Sky" mean and what is it in reference to?
Stachurski: The title of the film relates to Detroit's history of rising up above its adversity. The title is in reference to the last line of the film where it states "and we rise up until the whole neighborhood has a view of the skyline." It's simply a metaphor for rising up out of tough situations and against injustices.
Model D: At what moment did your team decide the film had to pivot and include the current unrest in response to George Floyd's killing? How are the pandemic and unrest intertwined?
Stachurski: The production for this film began during the height of quarantine at the beginning of May, but during our editing process of this film, George Floyd was killed by police and the Black Live Matter Movement swept across the globe. As storytellers it was a clear choice to pivot our film and broaden the message beyond the pandemic and speak to all the injustices African Americans face as whole, specifically how passionately the people of Detroit embraced the movement. Detroit is a primarily Black city, so to make a film about Detroit's disproportionate struggle with COVID-19 is organically also to make a film about racial inequality. So the message was partially already there. When the movement erupted, we read through our original script and realized how eerily some of the statements made towards recovering from COVID-19 applied to the conversation of rising up against broader racial injustices. Towards the end of the film for example, there is a line that reads "In this city. We are unafraid of the silence, because we know we make our own noise." Detroit, a city full of spirit, was seemingly quieted by COVID-19, but the life and personality of Detroit is in the people, so although the streets were quiet, Detroit was alive. Racism and police brutality has attempted to silence too many Black voices throughout history, but Detroit took to the streets and voiced loud and clear that we would not tolerate any more inequality or injustice.
Model D: The goal of the film is to spark conversation about the disproportionate impact on Black people and Detroit as well as the protests happening around the world. Can you talk more about that? How does the film addresss the injustices and inequities that Black people face?
Stachurski: The history of Detroit is riddled with racial injustices, and the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on this city and on Black Americans was yet another tragic manifestation of this injustice. Our film speaks to that, but it also provides a glimmer of hope. Detroit knows how to rise up from difficult times, how to come together, and demand a better future. I think that message was compounded by the Black Lives Matter Movement. We felt that there was so much coverage in the media of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement that was highly negative, it was void of messages of hope for the future. There were a lot of conversations during quarantine about how going "back to normal" after the pandemic had passed would be bad because "normal" was not working for everyone equally. The world had an opportunity to pause, and to return to life ready to build a world that was better and more just than the one we left behind to quarantine. As a storyteller I think positivity is the strongest emotion to make change and impact, so we wanted to focus on that — the spirit of Detroit, the hope for a better future. Hopefully, that message can create conversations that drive communities forward and together communities can make change.
Model D: Anything else you'd like to add about the film?
Stachurski: I would just like to thank all my friends and neighbors who volunteered their time to bring this to life. So many people and companies donated their time and resources for free to get behind this project! This piece and message wouldn’t have been possible without the meaningful leadership and support from Detroit producer and photographer Bre’ann White, and writer Mic Phelps. Thank you for guiding us in documenting this story.