Talking to Detroit-based filmmaker Nicholas Stachurski about his powerful new film, “Til We See the Sky,” which deals with racial injustice, COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement
By Chelsie Dzbanski
Photos courtesy of Nicholas Stachurski
Can you share a little bit about your film and the message behind it?
The history of Detroit has changed vastly over the past century. [The city] has faced countless moments of hardships and injustice, economic and political ups and downs, but a sense of optimism and pride for the city remains in the hearts of many of those who live here. Our goal with this film was to create a conversation around the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on Detroit and African Americans, and the spirit that held on, even as the worst pandemic in modern history ravaged its neighborhoods.
The production for this film began during the height of quarantine at the beginning of May, but during our editing process, George Floyd was killed by police. As storytellers we decided to pivot our film and broaden the message beyond the pandemic and speak to all the injustices African Americans face as whole, and how the city of Detroit embraced the movement and demanded change and justice.
What do you hope people learn or gain from watching this film?
Our film was intended to both document the lived experiences of real people in our neighborhoods, as well as provide a glimmer of hope when it felt like it was needed most. To inspire a sense of togetherness and faith that we could come out on the other side of this pandemic moving towards a world that is better and more equal than the one we left behind. We wanted this film to create positive and productive conversations around the protests that are happening across the world, and to help uplift a movement that will make a permanent change.
So many incredible people were involved in the making of “Til We See The Sky.” Can you share any highlights or memorable moments from the filmmaking process?
The majority of the film was shot in Jefferson Chalmers (JC). My producer, Bre’ann White, and I both live in JC. I bought a house here a few years ago and was able to get close with my neighbors. When I decided to do this film during the pandemic I simply called my neighbors and asked if they wanted to be involved. Since Bre’ann also lives in JC she was able to ask her neighbors too.
It was honestly a very fun bonding experience to bring the neighborhood together during a time when everyone felt so isolated. One of the most powerful shots of the film was actually with Bre’ann’s mom, Edna White (check it out at 1:19). It is the top-down shot of her mom looking up into the lens [wearing] a red floral facemask. This shot represents the way the world has often looked down on Detroit and Black people. We decided to have her look directly into the lens breaking the “fourth wall” which is a powerful technique not often used. I told her to take a deep breath and close her eyes and when she opens them to stare into the camera like she isn’t afraid of anything. Imagine the ‘camera lens’ is anyone who has ever doubted you or doubted Detroit. Make them know you see them and you are watching.
What were some challenges you faced?
Filming during a pandemic made things interesting. Keeping the crew and talent safe was our first priority. We took numerous safety precautions. One of the more interesting ones was shooting the film on a long lens so we could do close-up shots from afar while still practicing social distancing. Also doing our voice overs proved to be quite hard. We had to find people with their own home studios or microphones. Many different techniques went into matching the different sound qualities. We did end up re-recording some in our studio after the lockdown lifted.
What inspired you to get into filmmaking? How long have you been creating films?
Filmmaking is one of those art forms you can’t do alone. I am a huge advocate of community and collaboration. It can be a long, grueling process from start to finish but the people you work with along the way makes it all worth it. I started filming when I was about 8 or 9 years old and have not stopped since.
What’s your take on how Detroiters seem to feel about their future? Do they feel hopeful/disillusioned/angry/all of the above? How are they dealing with these challenges?
During the copywriting process of the film we shared the earlier versions with many Detroiters to get their feedback. Some people wholeheartedly resonated with the message of hopefulness; others added that they are tired. They are tired of the constant fight as Detroiters — and more specially, they are tired of fighting for equality. They did see the purpose of creating a film that brings positivity, though.
My next-door neighbor, Yolanda, who is pictured in the video looking out her window (timecode 1:22) said the film gave her chills the first time she saw it. Despite being tired she felt hopeful and wanted to share the film with her friends and family to bring forth conversations of hope.
What is your hope for Detroit and the world moving forward?
My hope for Detroit and the world is that we continue this fight for justice and equality in our system and our communities. To do that, we must continue to protest, speak up and take action on a local level until we see change on a global level. One way everyone can do their part is showing up to vote on November 4.
Visit tilweseethesky.com for more information and resources on how you can help support the BLM Movement.
Voice Over By: Mic Phelps, Monalyse, Chase Walker, Kaylan Waterman
Featuring: Leslie Morgan, Marwan Faulkner, Doc, Roxy, Kiza, Michael Reyes, Muhammad, Edna White, Yolanda Haynes, Gary Harvey, Anthony Bost, Eric Murray, Junior, Dedriauna Walker, Dre, Omi, Dre Dad, Malcom Burke, Whitney Harmen, Rhonda Slauter, Verna Slauter, Slauter Family, Jaibe Bates, Jyra Lisa Bates, Dorian Bates, Jaesha Bates, Dillan Bates, Taiyon Bates, Tia Bates, Jayare Bates, Matthew Parry, Lela Terrell-Peoples, Tray Little, Mr. Green, Bre’ann White.
Production Company: The Eightfold Collective
Producer: Bre’ann White
Director: Nick Stachurski
Writer: Mic Phelps & Brooke Weatherford
DP: Jesse Barron
1st AC: Josh Nelson
Gaffer: Blake Brown
Art Director: Zach Hagy
Movi Op: David Ketelhut
DIT: Addison Brown
Still Photo Development: Express Photo
News Footage Researcher: Aly Weatherford
Still Photos By: Bre’ann White & Zach Hagy
Post House: Hiatus Post
Editor: Josh Beebe
Colorist: Sofie Borup
Color Producer: Alexandra Lubrano
Color House: Company 3
VFX: Esteban Melean
Music Composer: David Chapdelaine
Sound Design and Mix: Gabe Sayre
Vocals: Aaron Jones & Kaylan Waterman
Music Sync: Assemble Sound
Special Thanks to Stratton Camera, Advanced Multimedia, Dave Saint George, Express Photo