In 2022, Rapide-Blanc Productions released the new film, “Greyland” — a documentary inspired by Justin Gest’s 2016 book, The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality. Directed by award-winning French-Canadian filmmaker Alexandra Sicotte-Levesque, the film won the Grand Jury Prize from the Blue Ridge Film Festival, Best Social and Cultural Feature at the Montauk Film Festival, and Best Documentary Prizes at the Red Cedar Film Festival and the Sound + Sight Festival in Ventura, California.
“Greyland” is the story of what was the fastest shrinking city in the United States: Youngstown, Ohio. Once the booming center of American steel, when the bottom fell out of the industry in the 1950s, 60 percent of the population moved out. Among those who remain today, most live beneath the poverty line. Like Rocco and Amber. A recovering heroin addict turned “urban archeologist,” Rocco hunts through hundreds of abandoned houses for vintage clothing, records, and artwork. Everything he finds goes to Greyland — his art gallery come thrift store — to be converted into cash. Amber is a single mother and the president of the Neighborhood Association of Homeowners, leading the fight against City Hall for their inaction in cleaning up her neighborhood. “We want to believe,” Amber says, “that there’s good, hopeful things coming.”
Through poetically apocalyptic imagery of a town taking its last breath, Greyland tells the story of two individuals’ resilience when everything has fallen apart around them. “You can try, but you’re not going to change it. All that trying just becomes part of the way it goes,” Rocco sings, echoing the struggles of a generation in limbo. Youngstown has been held up as a symbol of post-industrial decline not only in the United States, but in the modern world. And if it can happen in the land of opportunity, it can happen anywhere. Greyland follows Rocco and Amber’s search for meaning and hope in the midst of economic decline and a political landscape out of synch with the needs of its community. Should Rocco and Amber continue to fight for their city or flee like thousands before them? ¨Leave if you want to leave,” says Rocco, “but don’t turn it into something it’s not.” The question is, without change, can the community of Youngstown continue to satisfy anyone? What grows back on land burnt to the ground?