Detroit Narrative Agency Gains Momentum in Fortifying Detroit's Narrative-Shifting Ecosystem

Detroit Narrative Agency is proud to announce the successful culmination of their Seed Grant Program for moving image projects, which launched in August of 2016. A sponsored program of Allied Media Projects, the Detroit Narrative Agency (DNA) seeks to shift the stories that are currently being told in and of Detroit towards justice. DNA coordinators and local advisors have advanced ten moving image storytellers toward bringing their narratives of justice and liberation to life, with and for their communities.

With place-based, community-accountable principles guiding their mission, the Detroit Narrative Agency isn’t just celebrating this past year’s progress, they’re forging ahead to something even bigger.

DNA opening ceremony
DNA Seed Grant Projects present their work at the 19th annual Allied Media Conference. Photo by Ara Howrani

Initially slated to conclude in March, the first phase of Detroit Narrative Agency programming culminated at this year’s Allied Media Conference, thanks to an extension of funding from the Acton Family Fund. The ten teams not only presented their work to potential funders and supporters in a closed feedback session, they were also celebrated on stage as part of the conference’s opening ceremony. DNA also premiered the trailer for “Where the Heart Is,” a documentary by cohort member Orlando Ford that counters narratives of abandonment by showcasing Detroiters sharing stories about their family homes. Watch the trailer below:

Where the Heart is from iktome productions on Vimeo.


This trailer exemplifies the fruits of the 10-month development focus of the pilot program, where each project team was tasked with producing tangible work samples to leverage in gaining funding and support toward completion. With mixed technical backgrounds and scores of new equipment, the cohort got to work, skill-sharing and supporting one another’s work along the way. The group also began capacity building trainings like screenwriting, budgeting, and community impact strategy, in addition to community engagement activities and integral one-on-one consultation from the DNA mentors with filmmaking experience.

With the pilot program phase now wrapped and AMC in the rearview, DNA will continue to support members of the seed grant cohort in gaining access to the catalytic resources and opportunities for furthering their projects. In August, for example, members of the cohort attended the Blackstar Film Festival in Philadelphia to learn about the opportunities available through this network and to build relationships with Black and Indigenous filmmakers from around the world.

The Ford Foundation JustFilms program will continue to support DNA, too, by committing to phase two of the program which is dedicated to fortifying the city’s narrative-shifting ecosystem. Thanks to this continued funding, DNA will be supporting five of the seed projects in a year-long program that includes mentorship, coaching, and additional funding to develop their full project.

Fundamentally DNA has opened the door for us to know that the film aspect of our project merits a full length work. That is a daunting proposition. Yet DNA has given us the courage to take the story where it wants and needs to go. - DNA Seed Grant Recipient

Expanding Beyond Moving Image

Many of the mainstream narratives often told about Detroit - that Detroit is a blank slate or that Detroit is a comeback city - erase the experiences and contributions of longtime Black, Native, Latinx, Arab, and Asian Detroiters. We need more stories that illuminate the power, brilliance and legacy of the city.

The first step of this endeavor is expanding existing constellations of crucial storytellers. This means building an ecosystem of skills, approaches, and mediums that emphasize community accountability and more root cause analysis of the issues impacting Detroit. With grant support from the Ford Foundation's JustFilms program, DNA will continue incubating up to five of the seed projects to form a community impact strategy with neighbors, journalists, organizers, researchers, policy-makers, and other culture-shifters addressing similar narratives. A partnership with MIT will also see representatives from some project teams become Collaborative Media Making Fellows of the Open Documentary Lab, an impactful opportunity to bring new voices to new audiences.

As DNA evolves, the program recognizes that moving image is merely one method of approaching this narrative-shifting work. Through this next phase, DNA aims to support other mediums of storytelling by creating an incubator to strengthen narrative-shifting initiatives in the city. Detroit Narrative Agency will steadily nurture Detroit’s own narrative-shifting capacity, uplifting more stories by Detroiters in increasingly necessary times.

To make this possible, DNA is seeking funders to help match the Ford Foundation commitment to sustain this important work. Visit our donation page to learn more about making a contribution or send DNA an email for information on how to support Detroit's narrative-shifting ecosystem.

The Detroit Narrative Agency aims to change the stories that form the present and future of Detroit. We believe that the DNA of of this city is made up of many stories, and we seek to shift the stories that are currently told in and of Detroit towards justice.

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