‘The Last Truck’ is Oscar-bound
- Published: February 4, 2010
Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert, the village’s most famous filmmakers, will become even more famous next month when they attend the Oscar awards ceremony in Los Angeles as directors of one of the five films nominated in the Best Documentary Short category.
The couple was notified on Tuesday, Feb. 2, that their recent documentary, “The Last Truck: The Closing of a GM Plant” was one of five documentaries nominated for the award. It’s the first Oscar nomination for Bognar and the third for Reichert. Their previous collaboration, the documentary “Lion in the House,” won an Emmy for best documentary in 2007, sharing the award with a film by the director Spike Lee.
The film was shown on HBO in September, and also was a selection at the Telluride Film Festival.
“The Last Truck” follows employees during the last six months of operations at the Moraine GM plant, which was closed by the company in December 2008. About 2,500 people lost their jobs at that time.
While the couple is thrilled at the award, the film’s topic makes the honor a bittersweet one, according to Bognar in an interview on Tuesday.
“We’re all proud of the film. It’s a great collective effort,” he said. “But we want to remain mindful that the film exists because a lot of people lost their jobs. They’re still struggling. I would happily trade any award if the plant were still open.”
Bognar and Reichert had less than a year earlier won the “Lion in the House” Emmy when General Motors announced in June 2008 that it would shut the Moraine plant later that year.
“We began talking about doing a film immediately,” Bognar said. Soon after the announcement, he and Reichert spent time hanging out at the Upper Deck bar across from the plant, where GM workers gathered, according to an earlier story in the News. Several weeks later, they began filming.
One of their challenges was winning the trust of the GM workers, according to Bognar.
“A lot of the workers felt the press had misrepresented them in the past, that there’s an anti-union bias,” he said. “They were wary of us.”
But before long, as the filmmakers listened to the GM workers’ stories, a relationship was established.
“Luckily, people took a chance with us,” Bognar said. “Their willingness to be open and honest — that’s what makes the film.”
Two aspects of the filmmaking were unusual, he said. First, Bognar and Reichert had several filmmaking teams outside the plant, interviewing employees as they came from and went to work, including local filmmaker Aileen LeBlanc and students from the film department of Wright State, where Reichert teaches. Because General Motors only allowed Bognar and Reichert inside the plant for a brief period on one day, most of the indoor shots were taken by a few of the workers themselves, who Reichert trained. The GM employees filmed one of the most powerful scenes in the film, as the last truck in the plant moved down the assembly line, followed by the GM employees, who no longer had a job to do.
It didn’t take much training to turn the GM workers into filmmakers, according to Bognar.
“They were natural shooters,” he said.
The film was a collaborative effort, with a large contingent of helpers from the village. Local contributors included fine cut and consulting editor Jim Klein, who also composed some of the film’s music; Wright State film students Joe Lurie and Matt Zaff; and villagers Holly Hudson, Dennie Eagleson, Karen Durgens and Alison Maier, along with LeBlanc. Reichert’s daughter, Lela Reichert-Klein and her niece, Annie Reichert, also helped with the shooting.
“The Last Truck” also benefitted from many test screenings with Yellow Springs neighbors and friends, whose feedback helped the filmmakers shorten the film from an initial 70-minute product to its final 40-minute version.
“Julia and I feel so lucky to live and work in Yellow Springs,” Bognar said, adding that the feedback received during the test screenings “was an essential part of making the film better.”
The competition for the Oscar is fierce, and Bognar said he doesn’t expect “The Last Truck” to win. He’s just pleased to have been nominated, especially since the honor brings with it a greater awareness of the plight of General Motor workers who lost their jobs.
And the filmmakers plan to be there in Los Angeles for the award ceremony, on March 7.