DETROIT – Here in the Motor City, we know just as well as anyone how easy it is to get attached to our cars. We rely on them, we invest in them, we personalize them ... we even name them.
But, despite the vehicular history that runs through our Metro Detroit veins and has immersed itself in, or perhaps helped cultivate, our culture, the love between a person and their vehicle is surely not bound by our region. These unique relationships can be found far and wide -- including 4,000 miles away in the heart of France, where filmmaker Dorian Degoutte learned that love for himself.
More than 10 years ago in the city of Vierzon in central France, Degoutte received his first car, inheriting his late grandfather’s 1997 Ford Fiesta shortly after his passing. Degoutte, who says he is “not a car guy at all,” found himself becoming attached to the vehicle over the last decade, due to its sentimental value to him and because of the memories he’s made with it.
Unfortunately, though -- as is often the case with cars -- the relationship could not last forever. About four years ago, Degoutte said a technician told him his beloved Ford Fiesta wouldn’t last much longer. But the Frenchman was not quite ready to part with the vehicle yet.
Before scrapping the now-26-year-old car for good, Degoutte decided to take it on an overseas filmmaking journey to none other than Ford’s birthplace: Detroit.
When Degoutte had to begin thinking about getting rid of his Ford and getting a new car, he was sad and found comfort talking with others about his experience. It was through those conversations that he discovered other people had shared similar experiences of getting attached to their first cars, and feeling sad about letting them go. And thus, the idea for his new film was born.
“I saw my feeling was kind of universal, and I had the idea to make a movie about this strange feeling of being attached to a car,” Degoutte said. “To make this movie, I needed to do something special with my car, and I decided to share a last trip with her. My father was always kidding me with this car, calling her ‘my American car’ because it was a Ford. It was funny because she (absolutely doesn’t look) like an American car. She is so tiny!
“I also put myself into the mind of my car, asking her where she would love to go for her farewell trip ... And of course she answers to go on (to) her motherland, the roots of Ford: Detroit, Michigan!”
Degoutte said he wanted to learn more about the relationships humans have with vehicles, and why they’re so significant in our lives. He started in France, where his Ford Fiesta traversed familiarly, then made the journey to the United States -- where he had only visited once before.
The first step was getting the Ford Fiesta to the states, which required Degoutte to ship the car by sea. After many phone calls and emails between shipping companies and U.S. border agencies, Degoutte finally had a plan in place: The car would ship from Antwerp, Belgium to Newark, New Jersey -- a more than 5,8000 mile journey -- via a roll-on, roll-off cargo ship.
The Frenchman couldn’t travel with the car due to passenger restrictions in the COVID era, so he met up with his Ford in New Jersey. From there, he began his journey on land to the Motor City.
Filming along the way, Degoutte stopped in New York City, Staten Island and cities in Pennsylvania and Ohio before reaching his final destination. He chatted with people across the U.S. in hopes of learning more about their thoughts on cars.
“For me it’s fascinating how crazy (it is that) we get attached to a piece of metal. A piece of metal that is a tool for freedom and independence, but also a trap and one of the main factors of global warming,” Degoutte said.
When asked what his interviewees had to say, Degoutte said he encountered many different stories and reasons why people feel attached to their cars. “I can say that cars are often related with family stories, or a way (for people) to express themselves to the world,” he said.
When he finally made it to Detroit for the first time in his life, Degoutte visited sites throughout the metro area, stopping at the Ford Motor Company headquarters in Dearborn, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, the abandoned Fisher Body Plant, Zug Island and more. See some photos below.
In the 127 years since Ford Motor Company built its first car, automobiles have obviously changed dramatically. With the recent emphasis on electric and autonomous vehicles, and even flying ones, the future of cars is certain to be an unfamiliar one. Degoutte says he thinks all of the change will mean that the personal connection people have with their cars today won’t exist in the same way down the line. His hope was to document this relationship while he still could with his movie “Fiesta - The Film.”
And now, after staying in Detroit for several weeks longer than planned, Degoutte is heading home to France this week, equipped with enough footage to complete his film -- but his car won’t be traveling back with him. As of late December, Degoutte still wasn’t sure exactly where his Ford Fiesta would end “her” journey, but he knew it would be in Detroit or somewhere in the U.S.
When he returns home to his girlfriend, Degoutte will be driving a new vehicle that he had purchased before embarking on his weeks-long adventure to the D. Though he doesn’t have children yet, Degoutte says he and his partner upgraded to a “family car” and purchased a used Volvo station wagon.
“A car is (a reflection of) your personality, and a period of life. My small Fiesta was really the car of my youth. At a symbolic level, getting rid of her is a step toward adulthood,” Degoutte said.
The Frenchman has big hopes for his film, once it’s finished: He wants to screen it at the Ford-Wyoming drive-in theater and the Redford Theater, as well as in France. He said he also hopes to do a tour and screen the film in “all of the places” he visited on his final journey with his first car.
You can keep up with Degoutte’s journey on his film’s Instagram page here.