People as far as Chelsea and Dexter may remember seeing the
pluming clouds of smoke from the mysterious fire last July that
engulfed the Technology Center on Huron and Third Avenues. But what
people may not remember are the artists of the 555 Studio in the
Technology Center. Students Yoni Goldstein and Max Sussman filmed
“Whatever You Destroy,” as a lasting documentation of
the once-thriving artist community.

This film, just like the fire, is attracting onlookers from
afar. Entered in the Rooftop and Lost Film Festivals,
“Whatever You Destroy” is now receiving the local
attention it deserves at the Ann Arbor Film Festival next week. As
college students, the mere acceptance into the prestigious AAFF is
recognition of the film’s quality and Goldstein and
Sussman’s talent as filmmakers.

At first glance, “Whatever You Destroy” appears to
be an illuminating portrayal of the tragic end to the 555 Studio,
but the film also makes a much bolder statement. Looking closely at
the film and hearing the thoughts and concerns of Goldstein and
Sussman reveal that “Whatever You Destroy” is bursting
with strong opinions about Ann Arbor’s changing
environment.

The idea to first film the 555 Studio was an effort to document
the positive creative energy within the building. “We were
personally acquainted with the people and the space and we wanted
to get some lasting record of it before it was demolished,”
Goldstein explained. However, as soon as the shooting wrapped, only
a week later, the entire city block was in flames. The fire, while
unfortunate for the Technology Center, was fortunate for Goldstein
and Sussman’s film. “We felt like something was missing
(in the film), some dramatic denouement. (Then the fire) just
happened. It frames the film but it doesn’t really change
it,” Goldstein said. The fire didn’t change the film
because the film is about more than the physical destruction of a
building, he continued to say.

The studio was not only a place to work and display art but a
home for many low-income citizens. Before the fire, all of the
residents were asked to leave because of county living violations.
What Goldstein and Sussman really wanted to emphasize with this
film is the importance of places like the 555 Studio for Ann Arbor.
Sussman believes that “Ann Arbor is becoming a more popular
city and this brings about certain changes like higher rent prices
and homogenization of culture. The Tech Center was the only place
were poor artists could afford to work and live in the same place.
Now it doesn’t exist, and the community that was supported by
that physical space has diminished as well. The replacement of the
Tech Center with an exercise center will inevitably make Ann Arbor
a less vibrant and unique place to live.”

If you walk by the old Technology Center grounds, you can see
the plans of the YMCA exercise center and Goldstein, who’s in
agreement with Sussman adds that places like the new YMCA building
are only “pushing low-income citizens further and further out
of Ann Arbor.”

While the displacement of low-income citizens is a problem
everywhere, it is a particularly important issue in Ann Arbor to
Goldstein as he is not only a resident but a young one as well.
Goldstein feels that as more centers like the 555 Studio are shut
down, more conducive, enriching, youthful environments are leaving:
“We have a problem in Michigan where young people don’t
want to stay here — there isn’t a young
lifestyle.” Though the campus brings in youth, those who know
the Ann Arbor of years ago have watched the dwindling of a bohemian
environment.

“Whatever You Destroy” tackles all these important
issues through interviews with the 555 Studio artists. The
film’s message is furthered through the cinematography and
sound. The various shots of the Technology Center building inspire
a somber, pensive mood that makes one think about all the buildings
in Ann Arbor and whether or not they contribute to the community.
The sound used is noticeably original and noteworthy.
Goldstein’s younger brother Ronen did a large amount of the
music on keyboards. The metallic tunes and rhythmic beats fit right
in with the creative environment of 555.

“Whatever You Destroy” should easily stand up to the
hundreds of other films at the festival, for Goldstein commented
about the fire’s irony, “(the artists) have to inhale
art — everything they were trying to get rid of they were
trying to breathe into them. (Instead of the community) quietly
fading away, the fire emblazoned the fact that they were being
destroyed — in a dramatic fashion.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.