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Film Fri Oct 12 2012
During last night's Vice Presidential debate, Republican candidate Paul Ryan made frequent mention of his hometown, Janesville, Wisconsin. But one thing that he failed to point out during all the talk of auto bailouts and job growth was that in 2008, General Motors shut down their plant in Janesville. This resulted in thousands of jobs losses and numerous questions about the community's economic future (if any). As Ryan is fond of economic proposals and namedropping where he's from, perhaps we should take a close look at what's been happening there lately.
Co-produced by 371 Productions (Almost Home), Chicago's Kartemquin Films (The Interrupters, Hoop Dreams), and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), As Goes Janesville explores the lives of several of the town's residents as they deal with the aftermath of the plant closure over the course of the following two-and-a-half years. Throughout the documentary, former GM workers are forced to decide whether to transfer to the company's Fort Wayne, Indiana location or lose their pensions, a former Democratic state senator gets re-elected into a newly-hostile, partisan state political climate, and the president of a local bank unites the business community to help pitch tax breaks, lowered wages, and other incentives for new companies - and to advocate a Republican gubernatorial candidate named Scott Walker.
The stories in As Goes Janesville are told primarily through interviews with the five people that director Brad Lichtenstein follows. But there's also footage of a wide array of locations, from workers at the Fort Wayne GM assembly line, to closed-door economic development meetings with Wisconsin business leaders and politicians. There are even several clips of the widespread protests against Walker and his plan to strip collective bargaining rights from public sector unions. Many of the scenes capture intimate moments between the subjects and their family members, as they struggle to readjust their lives to the new reality in state and local affairs. Throughout several interviews, we get to see how the political views of former and current Janesville residents have been shaped by their job status - bank leaders for Walker, former union workers with families surviving on unemployment and disability checks against.
The overall result is excellent. The cinematography and editing are great, and effectively balance everyone's stories while weaving them together into a coherent narrative throughout. As Goes Janesville not only shows the divergent paths and opinions of the people of Janesville, but also the cause-and-effect of their actions. The film works on its own merits, but should resonate well in the current political climate. The recent Chicago Teachers Union strike has sparked a nationwide discussion as to whether unions are still relevant, and subsequent strikes in places ranging from suburban school districts to Wal-Mart stores show that the debate over the relationship between workers and their workplaces won't go away any time soon.
The title, As Goes Janesville, begs the unspoken second part, "so goes America." With its vivid portrait of the community from a variety of perspectives, the documentary shows how the town unwittingly became the ideological battleground for the economic future of the United States. And with Janesville's very own Paul Ryan so close to the White House, we may see the same kinds of scenes play out across the country for years to come.
Director Brad Lichtenstein will attend the Chicago premiere of As Goes Janesville at the 48th Chicago International Film Festival on October 13th, 2:30pm. Tickets can be purchased here. For more information, please visit the film's official website.