Mr. Dan’s Quick Stop, a short film by photojournalist Mark Felix, captures the twilight moments of convenience store owner, and Flint, Michigan, native, Dan Holbrook.Within its short time constraints, the film explores Holbrook’s fate in light of his looming retirement and what that could mean for his store and, ultimately, his community.
Inspired by his lived experience at the Flint Journal, Mark Felix’s work counterposes the popular narrative of a city in crisis. Below, in his Q and A with Entropic Magazine, Felix discusses life as a reporter in Flint and why he made a film about Dan.
Q How did you end up in Flint?
A At the end of 2015, I had just gotten back stateside from a grant project I was working on in Romania. I was feeling like a failure coming home with a project I wasn’t very satisfied with—and subsequently had spent every last penny to my name trying to make it work. I started bartending and wondering if photography was really meant for me.
Out of the blue, I got a phone call in April of 2016 from Jake May, the lead photographer at the Flint Journal. I had been a finalist for the internship there in college, and he wanted to let me know they opened a new year-long position and that I should re-apply. Three weeks later, I was in Flint. At the time, I never would have guessed I’d be in Flint for the next 3 years.
Q What was it like reporting there?
A I loved it. You really encounter a little bit of everything—some of the biggest characters and most unique personalities. I often found myself chuckling and thinking, Only in Flint.
Folks want to feel you out a bit when you first get there and quite understandably too—Flint suffers from a lot of “parachute journalism” and it makes residents skeptical.
If you aren’t authentic, “Flintstones” can sense it a mile away and will close off to you. But if you’re honest about what you’re doing and why you’re there, folks will receive you with open arms.
Q How did you feel about the reporting about Flint?
A It’s easy to see the big, attention grabbing stories that you know will get “clicks” (the water crisis/crime) and forget that Flint is A LOT more than just that. Out-of-town journalists honestly made it harder for local journalists to work by the incredibly broad strokes they painted about the city—or honestly just by being plain lazy in their reporting and interviewing the same people over, and over, and over again. Maybe they just bought into their own preconceived narratives and were scared of rolling around Flint and really seeing what it’s like to live there. How are you gonna do a story about Flint and not even stay within city limits when you visit?
I often heard residents use the phrase “Real Flint” when talking what they experienced vs. what they saw on the news. The narrative just hits different when you live there. When it’s your tax dollars, your neighbors, your community, it fundamentally shifts how you view issues.
Q How did you meet Dan?
A After the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, I was pretty torn up inside thinking about how easily that could have been one of my friends. The Facebook Live video of Castile just hit me on a new level. I started to walk around town asking black men of all ages how their deaths made them feel. I photographed my neighbor Tim, and he told me I should stop in at Dan’s store where he was working at the time.
I think Dan was both curious and a tad skeptical as to what I was doing when we first met.
Q Why did you decide to make a film about him?
A The first time we met, Dan was playing pinochle with his brother Reece and their friends. He told me I could sit down and hang out if I wanted to—he allowed smoking at the card table in the store and as a pack-a-day smoker at the time that greatly appealed to me. They were always making me laugh, hearing these 70-year-old men trash talk each other or discuss whatever current events were happening.
We started to form this unique friendship where he honestly began to feel like a grandfather figure in my life. I could tell that I was not the only person that felt that way either.
It was pretty evident right off the bat that “Mr. Dan” was one of the pillars that kept that neighborhood together. I saw him front so many people food that they couldn’t afford at the time to help them out—his generosity toward others was unsurpassed.
It was probably 6 to 7 months of me stopping in just to hang out before I floated the idea past Dan to make a video. That’s when he told me he was retiring and the story started to come together.
Q You said, “I want people to think of people like Dan, when they think about Flint.” Why?
A Extreme pressure either forms diamonds or causes things to crumble. The story of Flint to me seems much more about how damn resilient Flintstones are when faced with the worst of circumstances that would break most people. To only talk about problems people faced and not the people themselves who continually pushed through them seemed so hollow. Dan was everything I loved about Flint rolled into one—kindness, wittiness, generosity, authenticity and unwavering loyalty to his city and those less fortunate than him.
I hope one day I can be half the man he was.
This Q & A was edited for clarity, readability and editorial standards.
Mark Felix is a photojournalist based in Houston, TX. Follow him @markdfelix.
Nolan Ryan Trowe is a freelance photographer and writer based in Baltimore, MD.
Bruce Graves is a writer and web developer based in Los Angeles, CA.