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Interview with Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert

HBO

How did you come to make the film?

Julia Reichert

Well, we live in Dayton, Ohio; this is our community. Like everybody we heard the news on June 3rd of last year that this huge GM plant was going to close, and like so many others in our community we were shocked. The first reaction we had was, well, we have cameras, we're citizens with cameras, maybe we can help. We weren't sure how or what would occur, but we started shooting. We didn't really know it was going to be any kind of national story. We just thought it would be about our community, for our community. Not long after that, all these things started to happen: GM was called before Congress, the economy melted down and then GM went bankrupt. We realized it was a story we had to tell.

Steve Bognar

We felt like it was a really important story to tell so we positioned ourselves at the gates of the plant. And just to give you a sense of scale, the plant is bigger than the US Pentagon. There are four main entrances and exits where people come and go out of. And we positioned ourselves, us and a scrappy band of young shooters, at all of those exits, and started to do quick roadside interviews. And then there are three bars around the plant that a lot of workers go to, and we started spending a lot of time in those places, meeting and getting to know people.

These folks are funny, they're wise, they're irreverent, they're sardonic; they're really complicated, real people.

Julia Reichert

The bars were key. They're all within the shadow of the plant, so we went there and just started meeting people after work and talking with them. It was actually a lot of fun within the context of a really sad, tough situation.

HBO

It was interesting to see how much pride they took in their work and how much love they had for the plant itself; the plant was like character in the film.

Steve Bognar

When we started filming we would've guessed that they liked the paycheck and making that good factory money. And we would've guessed they work hard for that money; they sacrifice their bodies for that money. But as we got to know the people we discovered that they really did love these jobs. And they took immense pride in making vehicles that, as someone says in the film, people are going to be putting their families into. That was genuinely surprising.

Julia Reichert

They view themselves very much as professionals. Many people have skilled trades that they've apprenticed for and learned over the years. We didn't realize the training involved in these jobs. You know, the assembly line spits out one vehicle every 58 seconds. So, whatever job you do, you have to do it every 58 seconds. And if the plant goes down for even a few minutes, it costs thousands of dollars. So the skilled people whose job it is to go in and figure out what's broken are highly respected and highly skilled.

Steve Bognar

Having a job that gives you dignity breaks down a lot of barriers. You have every race and gender at the plant, and the sense of camaraderie and even love they share just transcends all the boundaries you see in the rest of society. They are brothers and sisters to each other.

HBO

What do you hope folks will take away from the film?

Julia Reichert

One of the main questions we hope the film will raise is: what happens to people like the workers in this film who have lost their jobs? In a way this plant is a microcosm for what we're seeing on a national basis, which is the shrinking of the blue collar middle class, the folks who are trying to get ahead, trying to send their kids to college or just buy a car. The middle class are under attack, and that way of life is really changing in America. And we're going to have to figure out what to do about it. Families can't get by - let alone get ahead - flipping burgers or working Wal-Mart kind of jobs. That's what we see happening here in Ohio and all throughout the Midwest.

Steve Bognar

I hope the film breaks any stereotypes people might still have about the kind of people who work in factories. These folks are funny, they're wise, they're irreverent, they're sardonic; they're really complicated, real people. And we really hope the film conveys that feeling.

The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant

2009 Documentary Films Series

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