Documentary stars Michigan’s revival


Jon Vander Pol works the camera with help from Isaiah Murray, left, and Rich Mayk of Ford Motor Co. on the walkie-talkie. They were filming at the Dearborn test track in May and speaking with Gil Portalatin, chief engineer of electrified systems for the Fusion Hybrid, Focus Electric and C-Max Hybrid vehicles. Courtesy Jon Vander Pol

The narrative of Michigan’s economic comeback will be told in an upcoming documentary.

“Exported From Michigan” is a soon-to-be-completed, 90-minute documentary that explores how Michigan’s economy has changed since the recession, highlighting issues such as entrepreneurial growth, urban farming, micro-brewing, alternative energy and art renewal.

The film is a labor of love for Jon Vander Pol, a Grand Rapids native and “Michigander at heart,” who is directing and editing the documentary, the first he’s ever made

Vander Pol, who now works in Denver as an independent creative entrepreneur, has spent two years accruing funds and shooting the film, which he hopes to have completed in January in time for submission to major Michigan film festivals.

The film is being produced by Pine Drive Pictures, a Michigan LLC founded by Vander Pol and supportive friends, and New Desert Media, Vander Pol’s Colorado-based LLC. So far, all funding for the film has come from the pockets of Vander Pol, his family and close friends, he said, adding that he still needs about $15,000 in finishing funds.

A self-proclaimed Michigan enthusiast, Vander Pol said he wanted to make the documentary because he believed there was more to Michigan than the downward spiral he saw on the news. His moment of inspiration came after watching Chrysler Corp.’s Super Bowl commercial, “Imported From Detroit.”

“Exported From Michigan” is a counter-narrative to the dominant national media declaration that Michigan is in perpetual decline, he said.

“I'm a lifelong creative entrepreneur and I'm doing this because I care about making good art — and, of course, about Michigan. The goal is not to make money as much as it is to make a quality documentary that is artistic and intellectually stimulating and to tell a story that is both uplifting and authentic,” he said.

“All I'm doing is shining a light on the work that the people of Michigan are doing with enthusiasm and heart, already. I'm just compiling the stories into a documentary format.”

Vander Pol and his team have so far interviewed about 70 people for the documentary, including some notable West Michigan individuals: Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell; Rick DeVos, founder of Start Garden and ArtPrize; Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First; Guy Bazzani, founder of Local First and president of Bazzani Associates; Bing Goei, CEO of Eastern Floral and the Goei Center; and Paul Isely, professor and chair of economics at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business.

He plans to finish filming in October, when he heads to Australia with the University of Michigan’s solar car team. On Oct. 6, U-M’s solar car, Generation, will be one of 28 solar-powered vehicles in the biennial World Solar Challenge, racing 1,864 miles across the blistering Australian outback from Darwin to Adelaid. The endurance race is a perfect microcosm of the bigger-picture story, Vander Pol said — an embodiment of Michigan’s resilient spirit of innovation.

“We have the brain trust and highly skilled labor force together. There’s a lot of potential there and in alternative energy, solar and wind,” he said.

“The only reasons I'm still in business are this: First, being an artist and entrepreneur is rewarding in ways that have nothing to do with money. Second, I refuse to quit. … Don’t quit. Never quit.”

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