Flint is a place that no longer needs an introduction after this past year and it probably hasn’t needed one for the past 30 years. The city has long been the poster child for the American dream gone wrong. In a perfect world, this project would be conveying some other reality. But these ideas about Flint are accurate. Flint is a place of struggle. It’s true and everybody knows it. But that’s not all it is…

Flint is a place is a cross platform episodic documentary series about Flint, Michigan. The project seeks to document a specific moment within this American city both as it’s perceived and experienced. The idea is not to show people some place that they don’t know. The idea is to put them in a place that they think they do know.

This project actually started with another project. T-Rex is a feature documentary about a teenage girl from Flint co-directed by myself and Drea Cooper. Claressa is her birth name and she’s a boxer. In fact she might be the best female boxer in the world.

Sports was Claressa’s ticket out of Flint. Not so much for her younger sister Briana. Briana represents everyone who has been stuck in Flint. Tough. Charismatic. Resilient. Funny. Heroic, in a sense. Fighting everyday. But stuck stuck stuck.

While the film is about Claressa and her resilience and grit, the web series looks deeper into Flint, with themes about community, kinship and poverty. Flint is a place gives viewers an even deeper dive into the systems and people within Flint, a place with a strong identity and deep scars.

What happens in Flint happens in many other urban American cities. But in Flint, it happens all at once. It’s what makes Flint so important in the national conversation. It’s been like a testing zone for American mismanagement. Eventually, something will have to change. Flint can’t go on like this. Better seems really far-fetched. Worse seems almost unimaginable. Crazy as it seems people will be there no matter what. Cause they’re proud. Or cause they’re stuck. Somewhere between those two facts is the reality.

Over the next few months, there will be more episodes. Virtual reality. Interactive. Archival. Animation. There is a book and a newspaper and some other stuff too. Follow along to see where it goes. Enter your email below to subscribe to our newsletter.


Flint is a place


This whole Flint project started with Briana. Briana is the sister of Olympic gold medal boxer Claressa “T-Rex” Shields and often that’s how she’s defined. Briana always says that Claressa is her better half, which would make her the worse half, or at very least the other half. Briana is cut from the same cloth as Claressa - she’s tough, charismatic, resilient. Briana is Claressa without the boxing. But in a town like Flint, Michigan, you need something to get you out. And Briana doesn’t have that. So she’s stuck in Flint. She’s a teenage mom, she didn’t graduate high school, the father of her son is in prison. In another town, all of her strengths might help her rise and get ahead. But she’s not in another town.

  • Directed by Zackary Canepari
  • Produced by Drea Cooper and Sue Jaye Johnson
  • Cinematography by Sophia Rose, Mo Scarpelli, Vanessa Carr, Jessica Dimmock, Drea Cooper and Joe Rivera
  • Edited by Lindsey Phillips
  • Original music by Matthew Joynt and Nathan Sandberg
  • Sound mix by Bryan Scary
  • Coloring by Micheal Hernandez, Final Frame
  • Additional material courtesy of the feature documentary “T-Rex” directed by Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper and produced by Sue Jaye Johnson
  • Additional interviews by Sue Jaye Johnson
  • Additional production support by Joe Rivera and Jessica Dimmock

Special thanks to the Economic Hardship Reporting Project for their support.

See the full film here.


“Everything Water Touches” is an interactive film directed by Zackary Canepari and Jessica Dimmock. Jessica and I have been working in Flint for a long time now. And living here isn’t like reading about it. Everything water touches is poison. The coffee in our hotel. The sheets on our beds. The ice in our drinks. The showers and the sinks and the soup and the clean clothes. It’s unavoidable. And it’s truly an uncomfortable feeling. Not knowing. 100,000 people in Flint are going through that experience everyday. And instead of fixing it, we’re all just getting used to living like this.

The interactive version of this episode was commissioned by Verse and published on The New Yorker. The text was commissioned by Mother Jones.

  • Directed by Zackary Canepari and Jessica Dimmock
  • Edited by Joshua Banville
  • Text by Charlie LeDuff
  • Original music by Matthew Joynt and Nathan Sandberg
  • Sound mix by Bryan Scary
  • Additional interviews by Drea Cooper and Joe Rivera
  • Additional editing by Justin Mulroy

Special thanks to the folks at Verse and The New Yorker for the support. And to Charlie for the words.


Flint is a complicated place. On one side it’s neck deep in struggle and tragedy. But on the other, it’s got this strong resilient no bullshit spirit. I’ve been working here since 2012 and I still can’t totally describe what makes Flint unique. And it’s certainly not an easy thing to photograph. Especially when there is so much else happening with the water and the crime and blight and so on. It’s understandable why Flint is always illustrated as this dysfunctional place. And in many ways it is that. But that’s not all it is. Which is why Prom is so important here. It’s not just a high school dance. It’s a citywide event.

This is my third prom at Northwestern. As most things with this project, it all started with Claressa. I photographed her prom back in 2013 and just thought the catwalk was the coolest thing. Family on one side snapping pictures. And the students on the other, looking their finest. No other event in the city is quite like it.

For 2016, I teamed with Landon and Jessica to capture something diverse and unique about this high school dance. I became the official portrait photographer for the students and Landon/Jessica tagged along with Antoine and Keoshi, respectively. Our approach is meant to highlight the simultaneous issues at play - the project is both a celebration of the student body's incredible sense of swagger and style but also looks at the very serious problems affecting these high school students. Flint has suffered without clean water for more than 3 long years, graduating seniors are affected by the circumstances that come with generational poverty and a lack of resources, and the city has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. And as such, the students from NW High School are proud and strong, but also have undeniable odds stacked against them.

At it’s core, we approached this as a story that celebrated fashion and spirit, with an undercurrent of struggle, and not the other way around.


Kids grow up fast in Flint. The city has been through so much for so long that instability is the norm. The abnormal has become normal. Many people have a family member in prison. Many people know someone that has been shot. Substance abuse and physical abuse are more common than they should be. No jobs. Families breaking. Schools closing. For most people, being from Flint is like being in quicksand. Generational poverty has taken its toll. There are no jobs. There are no resources. There are no easy solutions. There is no easy way out. Traumatic experiences are a part of life and trauma often gets the better of people. Especially young people.

The young women in these videos all spent time in Genesee Valley Recreation Center. GVRC for short. GVRC is a juvenile detention center on the edge of Flint, MI. Buzzing fluorescent lights, educational posters that say things like “Listen and Silent have the same letters” and long fading hallways make GVRC feel more like a fading high school than a prison. But the doors are thick steel and lock at night and the students all wear shower slippers. Sometimes the women are in there for 2 days. Sometimes 2 months. Some girls are 17. Others are 13. This project was made with the support of the Buckham/GVRC Share Art Project which uses spoken word as a form of expression with the women in the program. The girls are encouraged to write about whatever they want and often themes of trauma emerge in their writing.

The work here is inspired from years of being in Flint. Many of the photographs were found on the floors of vacant homes. The archival footage is from the heyday of General Motors time in Vehicle City. The emojis Tanadia used in her poem “I’m From Flint” were a huge inspiration and informed the creative direction of these films. And these young women were even bigger influences. These girls' stories aren’t unique to Flint but Flint is the bubble that they exist in.

This work was made with the support of The Buckham/GVRC Share Art Project

Check out the original version on Topic.com