‘Last Truck’ focuses on GM family
- Published: September 3, 2009
“Last Truck” shows
HBO will continue to broadcast “The Last Truck” beyond its premiere date on Sept. 7 at 9 p.m. Additional dates are Sept. 13, at 12:45 p.m.; Sept. 16 at 12:30 p.m.; Sept. 19 at 1:30 p.m.; and Sept. 21 at 5 and 11 p.m., according to the Dayton Daily News.
HBO2 will also show the film on Sept. 9 at 8 p.m.; Sept. 11 at 5:10 a.m.; and Sept. 30 at 2:15 a.m.
The faces of GM workers standing in front of their empty factory cuts a lasting image from the film that documents the closing of the General Motors truck manufacturing plant in Moraine. The scenes of snow sheeting down on freshly minted trucks puts in relief the profound challenge for the 2,400 plant employees who lost their jobs last year. The challenge of losing that prideful work is the story filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert aim to tell in “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” which premieres on HBO on Labor Day, Sept. 7, at 9 p.m.
The job of an automobile assembly line worker is to assemble one particular part over and over and over again on each vehicle that comes down the line, GM employee Kim Clay explains in the film. On the day the Moraine plant closed in December 2008, when the last truck came down the line, workers no longer had a job to do, he says — they no longer had a purpose. He felt it, others felt it. And Louis Carter, who applied the sticker with the last serial number on it, especially felt it.
“Everybody’s waiting on that last truck…got about 100 jobs left — okay, here come the last truck,” Carter narrates in the opening of the film. “I said, wow, it’s comin’, it’s comin’.”
The emptiness expressed by the skilled tradesmen and machine operators is palpable as they describe how it felt to be valued as an employee and be able to work alongside people they came to know as family. Their candor on film is a testament to the trusting relationships they formed with both the filmmaking team and with each other, as much of the footage inside the plant was shot by the workers themselves. And for the filmmakers, the job of telling another’s story with honesty and respect was an awesome responsibility, they said in an interview last Thursday.
When GM announced in June 2008 that it would close the plant, Bognar and Reichert knew right away that it could be a story, but they didn’t know what the focus would be. So they spent a few weeks at the Upper Deck bar across from the plant getting to know the crews that hung out there. Then they began to film the workers’ stories.
They met Clay, an electrician whose penchant for photography led him to publish a booklet documenting the workers at the plant. There was also Paul “Popeye” Hurst, a toolmaker who worked for GM for 16 years, Kate Geiger, a forklift operator who drives a motorcycle, Carter, Darlene Henson, and dozens more who opened up and agreed to share the devastating experience of losing their livelihoods and express the sense of pride and camaraderie they felt at GM.
“To me, the film goes into another time, a nonlinear time, where they’re able to experience this amazing time they had together, making connections with people who were old, young, black, white…” Reichert said. “The thing we wanted people to remember was what it was like there, the camaraderie and the community.”
But the filmmakers weren’t sure if others would see the film that way when it premiered locally two weeks ago at the Schuster Center in Dayton before an audience of over 2,000 people, most of them GM workers.
“They didn’t know if we were going to sugar coat it, or if we had talked to management, or what,” Bognar said.
In one of the opening scenes, when GM Chairman Rick Wagoner announced the plant would close near the end of December, a low booing began at the back of the auditorium and grew like a wave through the performance center, Bognar said. Then a worker in the following scene says, “Merry f-ing Christmas,” and the audience let loose with spirited cheers.
“From then on, they knew it was their film,” he said.
It was their film, and also a project that benefitted from the help of hundreds of people, including Yellow Springs filmmakers, editors, photographers and assistants Ben Garchar, Dennie Eagleson, Joe Lurie, Aileen LeBlanc, Jim Klein, Lela Reichert-Klein and Amy Cunningham. Local resident Tim Berger composed an original score for the film, and Wright State University faculty and graduate students provided production assistance as well.
As evidence that the teamwork paid off, “The Last Truck” was selected to screen at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado this weekend, an honor which tells Bognar and Reichert that their film has merit as cinematic art and as a documentary.