Review: ‘The Downtown Project’

What happens when you mix Tribeca Digital Studios with American Express? The co-production of not one. Not two. But THREE inspiring short documentaries celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit. The documentaries, each about 20 minutes long, debuted July 15th across a number of platforms including on-demand, Vimeo, and YouTube.

The first of the films that I watched was “The Downtown Project” directed by Morgan Spurlock.

credit: Tribeca Digital Studios

credit: Tribeca Digital Studios

Official Synopsis

Far from the bright lights and the resounding ka-ching of booming commerce on the Vegas strip is another side of Sin City; Downtown Vegas prides itself on hard work and the development of local businesses to inspire a growing entrepreneurial spirit within the community. A local initiative known as The Downtown Project champions small businesses by partnering with owners to make dreams happen and to bring a community out of the shadows.

Unique businesses like EAT, an award winning restaurant owned by Chef Natalie Young, The Hydrant Park, a desert oasis for locals and their pets, Stitch Factory, a fashion and creative co-working studio, and Turntable Health, a physician’s group with a specialized focus on the medical needs of their neighbors, are some of Downtown Projects’ most notable successes that are helping to revitalize the Las Vegas community. The entrepreneurial momentum in downtown Las Vegas has many exciting people flocking to this once depressed area to follow their dreams and to be a part of something life-changing. Renowned filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) follows this tantalizing journey through the unique characters finding prosperity in the most unlikely places. Their passion is infectious and, thanks to The Downtown Project, life is thriving again in downtown Vegas for the first time since the 1950’s.

One thing that I love about the businesses featured in this film is that while they were each often long-held dreams of their owners, they were also dreams that served others. A chef doesn’t open a restaurant just so that he or she has a place to eat, a doctor doesn’t open a medical clinic just for their own well being, a pet lover doesn’t open up a dog park just for his or her own dogs. “The Downtown Project” shows just how the embracing of Individual passions can strengthen communities, and in some cases reinvent them entirely.

The film is largely interview based. Each individual that is featured has a compelling story and likely could have carried a short doc of their own. EAT (which had me salivating with their delicious looking food) and Turntable Health seemed to be given the most screen time over the other businesses. The editing of the film is excellent though, as those who are featured, even if only shortly, are able to convey the area’s exciting new energy with their enthusiasm.

credit: Tribeca Digital Studios

credit: Tribeca Digital Studios

The Downtown Project initiative, founded and funded by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, is much bigger than it comes across in the film, which only shows a few select businesses. It’s also a project that hasn’t been without problems, which the film fails to mention at all.

Given that American Express is a co-producer, it’s not surprising that the film only focuses on the positives of business ownership and entrepreneurialism. It’s also possible that the majority of filming ended before the issues arose, which would make sense given the shots at the end of the film of the Downtown Container Park ribbon cutting ceremony in 2013; layoffs at the Downtown Project occurred in 2014.

The truth is, the film, despite the title, isn’t about the Downtown Project, but about the people with dreams making the Downtown Project even possible. “The Downtown Project” does a good job of showing how investing in small businesses, or better yet, investing in people, can revitalize areas where residents previously didn’t want to go. I can’t help but root for this unique Vegas renaissance and for the hardworking people with creative business ideas making it happen.

Watch “The Downtown Project” here. Also, check out the other two documentaries produced by Tribeca Digital Studios and American Express: “Buffalo Returns” and “A Dream Preferred”.

Posted by Documentary Drive