Denver in Decay's Steffan Tubbs on Upbeat New City-Produced Video

Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver City Council member Debbie Ortega in an image from the new video "Denver on the Rise."
Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver City Council member Debbie Ortega in an image from the new video "Denver on the Rise."
Denver in Decay, a documentary by KNUS radio personality and filmmaker Steffan Tubbs that castigates the city for its alleged inaction on chronic homelessness and violent protests, was meant to be provocative. But did it provoke "Denver on the Rise," a new and decidedly optimistic city-produced video shared via Twitter and other social media channels on October 7? Tubbs admits he can't prove it, but he has his suspicions.

Corresponding via email, he writes: "I think the City of Denver went, 'Holy shit — Tubbs's film isn't as slanted and bad as we thought!' and 'We should do something ourselves!'"

Not true, maintains Theresa Marchetta, a former TV reporter/anchor and spokesperson for Mayor Michael Hancock, who narrates "Denver on the Rise." When asked by email if "Denver on the Rise" is a response to Denver in Decay, she answers with a simple "No," adding that she hasn't had time to watch that documentary.

As for her thoughts on Tubbs's project, she asks a rhetorical question: "Isn’t that part of some national GOP campaign to terrify the suburbs?"

From the beginning, Tubbs has asserted that Denver in Decay is nonpartisan. But most viewers have seen things differently. The film has been viewed on YouTube more than 89,000 times and generated nearly 1,000 comments, many from people who say they've moved away or are boycotting the city because of alleged deterioration abetted by progressive politicians. A typical example: "I live in Westminster and used to go to Denver for dining and entertainment, now I avoid it like the plague. No plan on going downtown anytime soon, either. I may move out of state, liberals have destroyed this place." Even more specifically attack Democrats, including this one: "'There's nothing MORE devastating, than to come downtown and see what has happened' — (the destruction and lawlessness) CREATED BY (D)ems — YOU BUILT THIS!"

"Denver on the Rise" counters such negativity by way of beautifully produced imagery and narration to match delivered by Hancock, who declined an invitation to contribute to Denver in Decay. "Denver, like cities across this nation, is facing the triple threats of a public health pandemic, an economic collapse and a long overdue reckoning on race," he says. "But Denver is not like other cities. You see, in Denver, we have a history and tradition of coming together to tackle big problems. We take care of our most vulnerable, engage our community and invest in equity, so that even during the toughest times, we not only survive, we thrive — together. We're a city on the rise. This is Denver."

Here's the video:

Asked to describe "Denver on the Rise," Marchetta replies, "This project — a series of short videos on broad-based topics — is meant to keep us connected to the people we serve, and to inform and empower them with a snapshot of what and how we’re doing as a city. Before COVID, we had been working to prioritize video content that highlights city work and creates engagement with residents on digital platforms. Many of us were activated for roles in Denver’s emergency response efforts, which has dictated our priorities."

When was the plan to make the video conceived? "The initial video and series to come are the culmination of many conversations between marketing and communications colleagues working around the clock to support Denver’s emergency response efforts," she explains. "We needed a high-level way to connect with residents that survives outside the daily news cycle."

The video's message, she continues, "is we’re with you and we’re going to be okay. Few of us have had a moment to step back and appreciate the unprecedented challenges we have faced this year. As we share future videos, that underlying message remains the same and, I hope, sets the tone of how much this city cares for her people. Yes, there is fear and uncertainty, but there is also hope and resolve."

Referencing her stint as an anchor and reporter at Denver7 prior to joining Hancock's staff, Marchetta reveals that "as a lifelong TV news journalist, reporter/anchor, I always believed in breaking that third wall — and just talking to people about what’s going on and what they need to know. This is one way we can do that."

Tubbs, for his part, points out "The city's sixty-second video debuted twenty days after Denver in Decay premiered. We have no idea if this is the PR 'response' or if it is purely coincidental. I certainly find the timing very interesting to put out a rah-rah commercial, but since the City no longer communicates with me, I have no idea. Also interesting: the City's video mentioned COVID-19 and racial issues, but not a single mention or frame of video on the homeless situation. Ironic, since another 'sweep' was underway (near 14th/Pennsylvania) at the exact moment their video was released."

In his view, "The City's video message is great — if you believe 'all is well' and as a City we're doing a great job of handling 2020's challenges. It conveys this Colorado can-do spirit, grace, dignity and a community that's come together. In reality? That's far from the truth and the City knows it."

Tubbs describes the response to Denver in Decay as "overwhelming. I would say we're running 50-1 with positive comments, people sharing it and seeing a little bit more of the reality on the streets — and part of the history of how we got here. By positive comments, just to clarify: People are dismayed, angry and sad. But they have told us countless times, 'Finally. Finally we get to see what the local TV stations aren't showing or saying.' We're proud of that." He's also gratified that the project was able to make a recent donation of nearly $20,000 to recovery program Step Denver, representing 25 percent of contributions to Denver in Decay, which was crowdfunded.

"We have certainly been asked about doing a follow-up film or a sequel," Tubb notes. "I'm open to that down the road — hopefully it can be a much more positive film thanks to what Denver in Decay accurately portrays. Maybe it can be the spark the City needed."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts