Detroit & Dubai: Two Cities Built on a Dream

Thinking back upon the city of Detroit one may be reminded of industry, progress and factorization. Upon visiting the city today one will see that the world that once existed is no longer a presence. Detroit is a shell; a stale memory of a former home to those who wanted to build a new beginning. In the summers Detroit is reminded of its past but it is a fleeting and seasonal experience. After getting an urban taste it is back on I-75 and straight to the suburbs.

In I Have Always Been a Dreamer, Director/Producer Sabine Gruffat showcases the city from a unique angle that we have not yet seen before. When viewed in comparison to other Detroit inspired films many things are made obvious. Whereas most Detroit films focus on the squalor and dilapidation of the city, Gruffat seems to have been on a very different mission. Starting with the slow pan of the upper stories of the buildings the city almost creates the illusion of life. The buildings exude an element of power all on their own. The 16mm images help to create a timeless image of the city. The buildings still stand after over half of a century of vacancy, waiting, as if refusing to accept their fate.

In the film certain comparisons are made to the ever-expanding and growing city of Dubai. Referred to as a utopia and dream like world, the city of Dubai is a Mecca of modern architecture. As was Detroit, Dubai is being built on dreams. The luxurious buildings offer an oasis in an otherwise barren land. With infinity pools and towering spires the city feels like an illusion. As the film recognizes, there is an almost ethereal vibe based around a theme park atmosphere.

The correlation between Dubai’s themed ideals and the father of Detroit, Henry Ford, is after consideration quite curious. Henry Ford, much like the modern architects and developers of Dubai had an idea in mind. They each wanted to create a place where dreams could not only live but flourish and reproduce. Henry Ford bred the idea of factorization and was successful at not only encouraging the growth of the city but also of forerunning the start of harsh Americanization. One can only speculate about the nature of these establishments. The film suggests that this cycle of a false dream can only stretch so far.

In order to compare Dubai to Detroit it is necessary to put everything into context. These “development booms” have an entire century between them. Is it fair to assume that if Henry Ford built his dream village today that it would have been like the developments of Dubai? As previously stated such theories are only up for speculation. Maybe Dubai is the modern Detroit; a façade of greatness under a shortsighted plan of grandeur. None could talk Ford down. He was a man with a plan and more importantly he had what the whole world wanted. Now the world wants a slice of Dubai and the paradise it has to offer. Such a film based upon the harvesting of dreams lends a new perspective of Detroit. We are accustomed to seeing the films that show of the despair, misfortune, and shelled out structures but never before has the city and its history been portrayed as a premonition of the future. We look at Detroit and ask ourselves what happened. We ask why we couldn’t and can’t fix it. We start to compare it to ancient ruins and market the abandonment and encourage fallen urban discovery. This film tells us to keep Detroit’s past and present in mind. It begs the question of unnatural growth at an aggressive rate. When Ford expanded there were not enough people to support the dream but he continued to mass-produce. Now Dubai is built on hopes. The luxury lofts are built in hopes that thousands will want to inhabit them.

One must take history into account when planning the future. There is much to be learned from our predecessors and precursors of industry. Much has been built and much has fallen. Detroit has fallen much harder than most modern cities and has not yet risen to even half of its previous splendor. One would never wish this fate upon another city and all that we as onlookers can do is hope that Gruffat is loosely using the comparison of cities and will hopefully not be making a film about the death of Dubai.

– Candace O’Leary

I Have Always Been a Dreamer will be screened at four locations across the country, Detroit, Seattle, Madison and Chicago.

For a trailer of the film visit

For more information about the Detroit viewing visit