New documentary “Gradually, then Suddenly” explores Detroit’s bankruptcy 

Detroit’s bankruptcy was the inevitable result of political decisions stretching back years prior to it happening, according to two documentary filmmakers covering the city’s financial hardships. 


In 2013, Detroit became the largest U.S. city to ever enter bankruptcy. As a result of the process, Detroit shed about $7 billion of debt. While supporters of the process believed the bankruptcy was necessary to allow the city to balance its books and reinvest in city services, some critics argued that the decision jeopardized the pensions that retired city employees rightfully deserved.

Almost a decade after this historic event, the documentary “Gradually, then Suddenly” takes a look at what happened, how it happened and what lessons can be learned.

“This is the story of a city that simply could not make the political decisions that it needed to make in order to avoid the complete collapse of services and finances.” — Sam Katz, executive producer of “Gradually, then Suddenly”

Listen:  How Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy came to shape the city today.



Sam Katz is the executive director of “Gradually, then Suddenly.” He says Detroit’s bankruptcy is the story of a city that could not make the political decisions necessary to avoid the collapse municipal services.

“Cities around the country are kicking the can down the road and the Detroit story is what it looks like when you run out of road,” says Katz.

Chastity Pratt is the education bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal and associate producer of “Gradually then Suddenly.” She says for those who lived through the bankruptcy, it was a painful experience that happened because of the political atmosphere of the city and the state.

“It is a story about people in the end,” says Pratt. “The people of the city of Detroit were suffering and the people of the city and the state, for decades, didn’t get their arms around it.”

Dave Massaron is the chief business officer and CFO for Wayne State University and former Chief Financial Officer for the City of Detroit. He says Detroit’s elected officials decisions since its bankruptcy are why the city is now prepared to make its pension payments in the short and medium term.

“The city’s democratically-elected leaders decided to make the difficult decisions and invested to make sure that our retirees would be protected going forward,” says Massaron.

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