12th and Clairmount filmmaker talks about the 1967 riots in Detroit

Posted at 5:41 PM, Jul 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-21 17:41:54-04

The 1967 riots happened 50 years ago. The Detroit Free Press decided it would make a film about what happened in the city to cause residents to burn buildings, start looting businesses and leave Detroit in ruins.

Channel 7, along with Bridge Magazine, were proud to collaborate in the making of this historic documentary film.

During those five days of rioting, 43 people lost their lives and the journey back to find out why was not easy.

So we sat down with one of the two people responsible for bringing 12th and Clairmount to the life on the big screen.

For two months Brian Kaufman of the Detroit Free Press spent 12 to 16 hours a day editing the documentary film on the 1967 Detroit Riots called 12th and Clairmount.

Kaufman says, "We're dealing with things that didn't exist visually in many ways we're looking through archives and you're trying to unearth footage photography and documents."

They would need help bringing Detroit's history to life as it was in the 1950s and 60s.

Kaufman says, "How can we do this in a visually engaging way, and that's when we decided to put the call out into the community and find people's home movies that 8 millimeter stock."

Home movies galore had to be digitized for the film, but even more shocking, Kaufman says was, "The individual stories that came out really about police brutality in the black communities in the 60s."

Brian says the horrific treatment of African Americans by officers was at the core of what happened in 1967 and, with no way of illustrating many of the violent scenes, they decided to hire an artist.

Kaufman says, "You heard about it, but having people on camera explaining very specific things like being beaten by the Big Four and these very specific people - a man Nick named Rotation Slim - people remember these characters in their lives so vividly even though they only ran into them one afternoon in their lives."

Rotation Slim depicted in artwork is the man who argued with people right before the rebellion erupted.

Brian says you would think the divisions would be along racial lines, but they found what mattered more was where you grew up.

Kaufman says, "If you lived on the far west side or the far northeast side, you might have no clue what was going on in the black community on 12th Street. Those were very different existences."

Forty-three people lost their lives in the five days of rioting and many more were injured and hundreds were arrested.

Kaufman says, "What we tried to do was get to the heart of why this happened and it happened for several reasons, police brutality being one of them, housing segregation being another, and lack of jobs being the third."

Brian says they're hoping people will see this film beyond Detroit.

"You want to make it for people who don't know the story, people who live in the outer suburbs - northern Michigan other states or other countries to give them a slice of what happened in Detroit," he says.

After 50 years there is still a lot of rebuilding to do and today there are differing views about looking back on history.

Some argue it's time to move on from what happened in the past but,  Brian Kaufman says, "Other people see it a different way, I've lived in this area my entire life I dealt with what happened, and these neighborhoods have never been rebuilt and I've been stuck here for 50 years now and where are we going to go from here."

Brian stopped the film with the election of Detroit's first black Mayor Coleman Young, but there are a lot of stories yet to be told.