Film captures dying auto industry

General Motors’ vehicle assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio, closed last year, costing about 1,100 people their jobs. General Motors’ vehicle assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio, closed last year, costing about 1,100 people their jobs. (Hbo)
By James Hannah
Associated Press / September 1, 2009

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DAYTON, Ohio - Hundreds of autoworkers who lost their jobs when General Motors closed an Ohio sport utility vehicle plant cheered and cried at a screening of a documentary film that profiled their lives during the plant’s final days.

Some of the workers lingered outside the Schuster Performing Arts Center in suburban Moraine, south of Dayton, admiring the final vehicle produced at the plant, a white GMC parked on the sidewalk.

Workers then streamed into a theater to watch the HBO documentary “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant.’’ The 40-minute film is scheduled to debut on Labor Day.

About 1,600 GM workers and their families attended the screening, and another 900 people filled the seats.

Many of the workers, casually dressed in jeans, T-shirts, ballcaps, and tennis shoes, picked up free popcorn-filled paper bags and chilled bottled water distributed in the lobby.

“Some of you have told us this has been the hardest year of your life,’’ Steven Bognar, a coproducer, told the crowd before the screening. “It’s not just the assembly community. It’s all the suppliers, the people who made parts for that plant, the people who drove those trains. So many people have been impacted by the closing of that plant. We respect that. We honor that.’’

About 1,100 workers lost their jobs when GM closed the plant in December. Bognar told the workers he understands if some of them had mixed feelings about seeing the film.

“We’ve tried to bear witness to what you went through so the world will know, and we thank you for helping us tell the story,’’ he said.

Cheers erupted when one of the interviewed workers referred to the plant as a great operation. But the theater grew silent when another worker, tears rolling down his cheeks, said the reality of the plant’s closing didn’t sink in until he had to give up his badge. And there was a hush when another worker referred to the plant as a gentle dragon lying down to die.

Kathy Day, 47, of West Alexandria, a former worker at the plant, called the film “awesome.’’

“It makes me feel proud,’’ Day said.

She hopes the film is an eye-opener for the public.

“I hope they can see that we are real and we care about our jobs and we care about American-made products,’’ Day said.

Jeff Conklin, 45, of Springboro, said the documentary was “very painful to watch.’’

“I’m not a big crier, and I was tearing up,’’ Conklin said.

From last June through December, a film crew, led by producers Bognar and Julia Reichert, shot footage of workers outside the plant, in nearby bars and restaurants, and even in the workers’ own cars. The workers themselves shot footage inside the plant.

“This in a way is a chronicle of the end of the blue-collar middle class,’’ Bognar said.

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