by Eric Woodyard
Like most independent filmmakers, Marcus Davenport had a dream. His dream was a make a movie about the significance of basketball in the city of Flint, MI. After years of hard work and roughly $40,000 later, the Grand Rapids native accomplished his goals with the 2003 release of his documentary “Flint Star,” which glorifies the sport at its purest level in one of the roughest cities in the nation.
The documentary includes exclusive highlights and interviews from not only the professional athletes to make it from the city like Mateen Cleaves and Eddie Robinson but also the college and high school athletes who were trying to make a name for themselves.
Although the movie was released nearly seven years ago, the Grand Rapids native, who continues to enjoy a successful teaching career, never shies away from reflecting on the overall process of producing his groundbreaking documentary.
I caught up with Mr. Davenport in a phone interview that went like this…
SLAM: What sparked your interest to start to start a Flint documentary? Was it just hearing all of the great stories?
Marcus Davenport: To be honest, mostly everything that I’ve done in the last 12 years has always been based on what I do for a living and that’s teach and work with kids. So I’ve always heard about Flint basketball even prior to moving to Flint in 1995. I would come and play in the Pro-Am on the Grand Rapids team and we had a tryout for the team so it was like some of the best players in Grand Rapids had one team and we would come and play against the guys in Flint so then I knew a lot about basketball in Flint but I was working at Pierson Elementary School and I a game when it was Pierson against Gundry and I couldn’t believe some of the skills that some of the kids had at such a young age. Everybody knew about the Flintstones and you knew about the guys like Glen Rice and the guys that put Flint on the map but I couldn’t believe the level of talent these kids had at an elementary school age. You know what I’m saying? When I saw that, that’s when I really got inspired.
That’s when I knew it was something special because every city has that talent that can make it to college and then some cities are lucky enough to have that talent to make it to the pros but when I saw it was so much talent on a elementary school level, I was like ‘It’s something special here.’ That’s what really made me want to do the movie.
SLAM: So you’re originally from Grand Rapids, right?
MD: Right, right…
SLAM: Did you play basketball in high school or growing up?
MD: I played basketball in high school, right. As a matter of fact, what’s so crazy is that my team lost to Flint Northern in Davison at the Quarters back to doing the high school state tournament.
SLAM: What college did you attend?
MD: Michigan State.
SLAM: So were you there when they won the National Championship in 2000?
MD: When they won in 2000, I was actually in Flint to do student teaching at Pierson Elementary School.
SLAM: So that was pretty monumental that you have so much history with the city of Flint even though you’re not actually from Flint…
MD: For me, it was like I moved to Flint at an early enough age where you know how it is being in college where you go away and you come home. Home is special when you’re in college. So for me, my whole college time, coming back home…home was Flint! So Flint had to become my home so on holidays and summer time, I kind of just learned the city quickly. I (also) kinda got embraced by the city. You know Flint’s a tough place? But I got a lot of love for Flint and the people from Flint and that’s why it was easy for me to give that love back.
SLAM: So what was the most challenging part of doing this whole process of producing a documentary?
MD: The most challenging part was probably the financial aspect of it because when you don’t have any true guidance or any experience in doing movies you don’t know what to expect. So you go in there and you say ‘I’ma spend $10,000,’ and before you know it you’re not even half way done with the movie and you’ve already spent $15,000. So for me just being able to financially doing what I needed to do to produce funds, to buy equipment, and editing equipment and travel and stuff like that…that was probably the most challenging. And then the simple fact of putting a movie together when you have never in your life did a movie. Just sitting there and saying ‘How could I make all of these interviews fit together and tell a story?’ I may have had 100 tapes of footage so I could have easily did two or three movies from what I had but you just try to cut it down and say ‘OK, this is the story that I’m trying to tell so I will take this parts of different interviews and just try to put it all together.’
SLAM: I know you wanted to teach people some things about Flint basketball, but what did you learn while filming this movie?
MD: I think that one of the major things that I learned was that for most individuals who come from Flint, it’s a real genuine love for the city. I truly feel that I couldn’t have done a movie like this in a lot of cities and got the kind of support that I got. You’re talking about major athletes who at the particular time of their life were at the top of their career and were still willing to help me. In those times, I was just a guy with a camera and a dream! For people to say ‘Come here and come here, this is about my city and I’m gonna support you.’
That’s when I really understood when cats got those Flint tattoos and when people rep Flint that’s it’s something that’s genuine. It’s not just for show! It’s something that they really live and breathe and it’s something in their heart and they really wanted to help out and do anything they could for something that could represent their city in a positive way.
SLAM: As a matter of fact I got the Flint tattoo on my arm…
MD: Oh for real? [Laughs]
SLAM: It really is a genuine love, I’m the same way. I try to do all that I can for my city even in my profession so I know exactly what you mean…
MD: Right, right! I remember in high school, I had a partner who moved to Grand Rapids from Flint and he used to talk about Flint so much and he would get into fights with cats and he would be like ‘Wait to my boys from Flint get up here!’ We would be like ‘Dog they two and a half hours away man!’ But in his brain it was ‘Flint or Die!’ It was like ‘Man, I’m from Flint…I gotta rep it every day.’ So I couldn’t understand it until I moved to the city.
I was just like ‘Why is this cat so Flint crazy?’ and then you move there and you understand that Flint people got a lot of pride. Like if you go to other places, especially if you got to New York or California, a lot of times if somebody is somewhere from Michigan in a smaller city, they tend to say ‘I’m from Detroit,’ because that’s a city that everybody knows. But a true blue Flint cat will tell you he’s from Flint like you’re supposed to know like ‘You don’t know where Flint is?’ That’s just how it is so I definitely got an appreciation for how genuine about how cats are for the love of their city.
SLAM: What do you think separates you movie from all of the other documentaries about Flint that you would like the people to know?
MD: I think just in general that it’s authentic. It’s truthful, it’s not watered down and it’s just strictly that I gave the city back what was given to me. If you watch my movie, people had the opportunity to speak their mind and whatever they felt in their heart. They said it and it wasn’t like it had to be watered down or sugar coated and it was one of the first to ever come out of Flint on that level when I had it.
A lot of people talk about the NBA players that I had in the movie but more importantly, what made the movie so special was the everyday Flint individuals. The people that really live in the city and work in the city and they probably were born and will die in the city of Flint so that’s what means the most to me.
For more information on the DVD, visit flintstarmovie.com.