Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Documentary Short category for this moving profile of the factory workers in General Motors’ assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio. During its peak, the plant produced 280,000 small trucks and SUVs a year. But when General Motors’ corporate strength evaporated at the start of the recession, the company abruptly decided (without consulting the autoworkers’ union, it seems) to close the plant on December 23, 2008.
The film focuses on the plant’s blue-collar workers, who share their good memories from the factory floor and their fears of what the future will hold. Many of the newly unemployed are middle-aged and held no other jobs outside of the plant. But the challenge of reinventing themselves via a belated community college education for non-factory work in a job-poor economy is an unpleasant consideration. By extension, fears are raised that Moraine will soon become a ghost town, since the plant was the financial heart of the community.
While most of the workers try to keep a positive attitude and remain strong in the face of this new adversity, some people bitterly bristle at General Motors’ insensitivity in closing the plant two days before Christmas – and their anger is further fueled when the plant’s closure curiously coincides with a rash of sensationalist TV news reports that insisted the workers were earning upwards of $75 an hour.
The film offers an intelligent and heartbreaking record of the human wreckage left behind in the decline and disappearance of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. And as a post-script to this sad story, General Motors reported quarterly earnings of $1.3 billion (its strongest quarter since 2004) on the day that this review was written. Where’s Michael Moore when you really need him?