Freep Film Fest Documentary Explores History of Detroit’s Cass Corridor

Jake Neher/WDET

Filmmaker Nicole MacDonald

The Cass Corridor is one of the Detroit neighborhoods that has changed the most over the past two decades. And not all of those changes have been to the benefit of longtime residents.

It’s a neighborhood that’s seen an evolution that tells a bigger story about how change unfolds in our city, and how it affects different pockets of Detroiters.

Nicole MacDonald is a filmmaker who has taken a deep look at the Cass Corridor and how it has changed. Her film, Last Days of Chinatown, is part of the Freep Film Festival this weekend.

MacDonald says she noticed the recent shifts in the neighborhood while living there ten years ago.

I was able to observe it from a different perspective, a more intimate perspective,” says MacDonald, who grew up on the east side of Detroit, but took an interest in the history of the Cass area. In her research she learned the neighborhood was once the desirable location for Detroit’s “founding fathers” and the city’s wealthy elite, who built mansions there.

You have this concentration of wealth… and then you go to a [time] where most of these mansions were cut up into tenement housing.”

Last Days of Chinatown Trailer from Nicole Macdonald on Vimeo.

The Cass Corridor was also once labelled Detroit’s “Chinatown,” was the “arson capitol” of the city, became a primary location for vice in the 1980s and ‘90s, and eventually was rebranded as “Midtown” to attract businesses, young working people, and students attending Wayne State University.

All of these extremes make the area interesting,” says MacDonald.

You can learn more about MacDonald’s film and the other films screening at the Freep Film Festival on the festival website.

To hear more from MacDonald on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.

Image credit: Last Days of Chinatown/Nicole MacDonald

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