The workers of the General Motors SUV assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio, must have woken up on Christmas morning of 2008 with the feeling that they just got a lump of coal in their stockings. Two days prior, on December 23rd, the GM plant shut its doors for good, leaving its 2,500 workers and 200 management staff members without jobs.
With so many people affected by the foreclosure, two filmmakers wanted to tell the story of the final months of the GM plant through the eyes of the workers. Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert are the writers, directors, editors, and producers of a 40-minute documentary called The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, which will be screened at UD on February 2nd.
As both Yellow Springs residents and independent filmmakers, Steve and Julia bring a unique perspective and philosophy on life that is reflected in their career.
Julia’s attraction to photography first spawned her interest in communicating social issues with a large group of people. Her first documentary, Growing Up Female, was released in 1971 and considered the first film to come out of the modern women’s movement.
“It wasn’t until later that I realized the power of film as an art form and not just a medium of communication,” Reichert said.
Steve’s journey into the world of independent film similarly started when he was introduced to the photography book The Americans by Robert Frank.
“It opened my eyes to the power, the poetry, and the meaningfulness of documentaries,” Steve said.
Their first directorial film project together was a documentary called A Lion in the House, which followed five families each with a child diagnosed with cancer. After six years of filming and 525 hours of footage, Steve and Julia were able to shape the story into a four hour long movie that premiered on PBS over two nights.
“It was the toughest film we’ve made by far, but as both humans and filmmakers, it was also the most profound thing we’ve been through,” said Bognar.
A Lion in the House had its world premiere at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and is considered the longest film to be presented in the documentary category. To Steve and Julia’s delight, many of the families and doctors featured in the movie came out to see the film.
While at the festival, however, Julia felt ill with what she thought was emotional and physical exhaustion as a result of her tireless efforts to complete the documentary. But in a stroke of cruel irony, Julia was diagnosed with cancer and had to leave the Utah screening early to undergo treatment.
With the help of the many people who came out to support the film, A Lion in the House finished its run at Sundance and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Steve and Julia even won a prestigious Primetime Emmy for their documentary in 2007; an award that has since been overshadowed by Julia being cancer-free for three and a half years now.
On June 3, 2008, Steve, Julia and the Dayton community were shocked to hear about GM’s decision to close the local assembly plant.
“We both had seen the plant and knew it was a huge part of the Dayton community,” Steve said, “so it was devastating news to hear that the plant was going to close. Dayton is in a tough situation. Our city has been hit hard with job loss and I think we all have to do what we can to help each other out.”
Together Steve and Julia set out to help the thousands of people who considered themselves more family than GM co-workers by telling their story.
“Your job as a documentarian is to find and feel the story, open your heart to people, and throw away your own preconceptions,” Bognar said.
For six intense months, Steve and Julia shot 100 hours of footage and interviewed many workers who would prove the factory worker stereotype to be completely inaccurate. The Last Truck uses these revealing interviews to portray the emotional toll of not only losing a job, but a sense of self as well.
Since its HBO premiere on September 7, 2009, Baltimore Sun film critic David Zurawik named the documentary as one of the top ten television programs of 2009. In October, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences listed The Last Truck as a possible contender for the Documentary Short Subject Oscar at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards. And now this powerful documentary will be featured at the University of Dayton.
Presented by ArtStreet, Film Dayton, and the University of Dayton Initiative on Sustainability, Energy and the Environment (SEE), The Last Truck will be screened on Tuesday, February 2nd at 7 p.m. in the Science Center Auditorium on the University of Dayton campus. This event is free and open to the public.
Be sure to stick around following the film as Steve Bognar, Julia Reichert, and one or more workers portrayed in the film will be having an open discussion about the documentary for all in attendance.
“My life has been enriched so much to be a part of such a creative medium,” Julia said. “Just going out into reality is such an adventure.”
“I feel so lucky to work, grow as a documentarian, and try to tell meaningful stories,” Steve said. “Bearing witness to the human experience is the best thing we can do with our skills.”
For more information about the February 2nd screening, please call (937) 229-5101. For a campus map, click here. A parking permit is required and can be obtained at the main visitor center on the University circle or parking booth at Lot C on Evanston Avenue.