At Least 7 Weird, Tragic, & Wonderful Docu-Films About Michigan
Recently, it was announced that a documentary about Boblo Boats will be hitting Detroit area theaters later this year.
The movie, Boblo Boats: A Detroit Ferry Tale, is set to hit the big screen in September of this year (2022) according to detroitnews.com. The movie will cover the history of the Detroit area amusement park, the ferries that took people to that park, the ongoing effort to preserve those ferries, and it will even cover the story of Sarah Elizabeth Ray. In 1945, Ray, a civil rights pioneer, pushed for the integration of the ferries after she faced discrimination on one of the boats.
But, this is hardly the first documentary to cover something about Michigan's history. A quick Google search yields a plethora of results covering everything from history-making people, urban legends, magicians, and more. Here are at least 8:
1. Bad Axe
While the film is named after a small town in Michigan's thumb, Bad Axe is actually focused on an immigrant family trying to,
keep their restaurant and American dream alive in the face of a pandemic, Neo-Nazis, and generational scars from the Cambodian Killing Fields.
That's according to the film's official website which you can see here. This documentary has already been shown at a number of film festivals across the country. However, if you're in the Traverse City area, you have a chance to catch it at the Traverse City Film Festival at the end of July (2022).
Since this is a newer film being debuted at film festivals, it doesn't look like you can stream it anywhere at this time.
2. On the Trail of the Lake Michigan Mothman
If you love documentaries about cryptids and Urban Legends, this short documentary might be right up your alley. Most of the shots seem to take place in Chicago but, the filmmakers go on to explore Mothman sightings in Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana too. Read more below:
Currently, you can rent On the Trail of the Lake Michigan Mothman on Amazon for $4.99.
3. The Worth of Water: A Great Lakes Story
The Worth of Water: A Great Lake Story can be seen in its entirety on Youtube. It follows two women, Julia Robson and Alyssa Armbruster, as they walk 343 miles from Lake Michigan in Milwaukee to Lake Superior in Michigan's UP. Throughout the film, the two women interview political figures, activists, and educators to help educate those watching about the issues the Great Lakes face.
Robson and Armbruster are also the co-creators of Walk to Sustain Our Great Lakes, a literal walk to raise awareness about the Great Lakes and conservation. See more here.
4. Flint: Who Can You Trust?
Described as a "real-life American horror," Flint: Who Can You Trust? covers the devastating, human-caused environmental disaster that the residents of Flint are still facing to this day. This documentary was filmed over a five-year period and, while it does feature Alec Baldwin as the narrator, this story is mostly told from the perspective of those living in Flint.
5. Made in the Mitten
Perhaps the shortest documentary on this list, Made in the Mitten's runtime is just under eight minutes. The short flick focuses on Sherman Poppen, the man who can be credited, at least partially, for the invention of snowboarding after he decided to strap two skis together back in 1965. Read more here.
This documentary is just one of 25 that's listed under the category of "Michigan" at freshcoastfilms.com. They range in length from two minutes to ninety minutes and can be found here.
6. American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs
This documentary tells the story of 99-year-old Grace Lee Boggs, a Detroit area activist who, "wrote and taught about creating a sustainable, post-industrial future," according to detroit.curbed.com. Sadly, she passed shortly after the film was released in 2015. You can see the film in its entirety by renting it on Amazon for $3.99.
If you're interested in more documentaries focused on the Detroit area specifically, you can find a whole list here.
7. The Amazing Johnathan Documentary
The Amazing Johnathan Documentary highlights the last tour of Detroit-born magician, The Amazing Johnathan. The documentary's description on Hulu, says,
What begins as a seemingly ordinary profile of a dying magician becomes an unexpected and increasingly bizarre journey as filmmaker Ben Berman struggles to separate truth from illusion.
Tragically, in 2014 Johnathan Szeles, revealed that he had been diagnosed with a heart condition and had just one year left to live. How did he spend it? On tour performing magic. As mentioned above, you can see the documentary on Hulu.
If fictional films are more your thing, that's okay. As it turns out, there's an entire list of movies all of which are set in Michigan's UP. Check it out: