New film examines the ‘low down’ of life in Dayton

“Folk journalism documentary” focuses on Dayton folks

David Sparks and Steve Bennish didn't have predetermined answers when they hit the street last summer to film their new 25-minute "folk journalism documentary" People of Dayton.

Their question, "what is the low-down on life in Dayton in 2014," solicited responses that ranged from hopeful to depressing.

"It was simply to give voice to people in the city," said Bennish, the man behind the books Scrappers and A City of Neighbors and a reporter with 30 years of experience (20 with the Dayton Daily News). "Given the depth of the economic crash, there was just ample material to work with."

Sparks — an artist, online journalist and website developer — formed a friendship with Bennish after Scrappers.

“I just loved the book,” Sparks said of the book released independently in 2013. “It has a great emphatic human eye.”

Sparks and Bennish recorded People of Dayton during three day trips. Sparks said the term folk journalism reflects the fact that real folks tell the story in their own words.

He and Bennish simply walked up to people, struck up conversations and recorded interviews with the willing as they went about their daily lives.

Even those who didn’t want to be interviewed (a group of men who claimed to be on a local most wanted list included) were Midwestern nice, thoughtful and respectful, the pair said.

Interviewees ranged from a homeless woman to a man who owns a small business to a shirtless boy holding a Pepsi on what seems to be a hot summer day.

Although the experience of those in the video don’t necessarily reflect the reality for everyone, Bennish, a Detroit native, said it is a slice of what life is like in Dayton.

He said a few realities emerged.

For one, Bennish said there is a clear need for more value-added industries in Dayton.

“It took generations to build the manufacturing supply chain, and we have done away with too much of it with off-shoring over the last 10 years,” he said. “That is what is killing Dayton and cities like it.”

Some viewers have commented that the video is negative, but Sparks — a Dayton native raised mostly in Kentucky — said he sees the work differently.

“I think it was extremely positive. It showed the resiliency of people. That is one of the strengths of Dayton,” said Sparks, who served in the Army National Guard during the Gulf War. “It humanizes a lot of people who in a lot of ways are dehumanized in the vast scope of the way people view class.”

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