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Feb. 11, 2011

MSU premieres 'The Kings of Flint'

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A new documentary about sustainable urban agriculture will premiere 7 p.m. Feb. 12, at Beecher Village Hall in Flint.

Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences faculty members Geri Alumit Zeldes and Troy Hale produced the film "The Kings of Flint." The 30-minute film will also air 6 p.m. Feb. 22 in room 147 of the Communication Arts and Sciences Building and 10 p.m. Feb. 28 on WKAR-TV.

Zeldes and Hale came up with the idea after meeting with Jacky and Dora King, owners of King Karate. After a number of years teaching self defense to the youth of Flint, the Kings decided to use farming to help their community.

The film shows their efforts to transform Flint into a healthy, agricultural community and to teach young adults how to grow their own food. The Kings also incorporate the principals of karate into their daily farming routine, teaching young adults about strong work ethic and character building.

Zeldes and Hale began the project summer 2009. It started with a short video clip, but with the help of 15 students and funding from the Ruth Mott Foundation, the Humanities and Arts Research Program and the College of Communication Arts and Sciences' undergraduate program, they were able to create a longer version for WKAR-TV.

The pair plans to pitch it to national television stations and submit to film festivals. And a shorter version of the documentary was screened at a film festival in Flint last October.

"This was an opportunity to cover a story that had a positive edge," Zeldes said. "Flint is full of people who are innovative, creative and trying to find solutions. The Kings are leading the way to train cities how to rise above."

Zeldes, from Flint, was fascinated with the idea of sustainable agriculture and the city's initiatives in revitalizing its community.

The Kings are only two of many Flint residents who are growing their own food, she said. Hale and Zeldes will expand their documentary into a full, one-hour version this year to incorporate other families and their efforts to clean up the city.

"We had a number of students working on the film, including students who weren't even in the college but were interested in the project," Hale said. "We grabbed people with passion."

Students sharpened their investigative reporting skills and learned how to shoot and edit their own video. They traveled to Flint about twice a month to gather footage and interview the Kings, residents and local government officials.

"They were a pleasure to work with, just like a family," Dora King said. "They were passionate about what they were doing, and added energy to the whole process."
The Kings were also given flip cameras and trained to shoot their own footage as part of a grassroots effort and social media outreach, Zeldes said.

The documentary also includes a full-length music video completely shot and edited by MSU and performed by Flint residents Willie White, Ian Reddington, Hakim Gillard and Desiree Brown.

"In Michigan, I think Flint is known as a terrible city with lots of crime and it's going nowhere, but there are actually people trying to change it," said journalism student Alyssa Firth, who is the webmaster and a producer of the film.

Firth had never worked on a film and had to learn the documentary process.

"I'm hoping the word will get out about urban farming and how you can revitalize a community," Jacky King said. "It's not something you just talk about doing; it's something you do."