Company Town has two versions, the first having a 52 minutes long running time, which will play in local festivals. The second comes in at a trim 44. A lot of that screen time goes to Jerry Dias, Jr., the president of Unifor. It’s the union representing, among many, workers at a General Motors plant in Oshawa. For those who forgot, GM is a company that, after a hundred years, is shutting their Oshawa plant down. Parts of Dias’ job include appearing in conferences to tell the press that he did his best to compromise with his adversaries.
Company Town also looks at the workers that Dias represents, who are resentful that he can’t be in Oshawa because he’s in the States with the GM bosses. This is a program not just of conferences but of town hall meetings, letting its audience feel the workers’ anger. They’re coming in as they are. And in turn, the camerawork here blues the workers in the background to focus on one, each of them getting a turn to speak. They’re asking Dias’ right hand man for information about their future, which somehow feels hard to get.
Since the workers don’t have the answers to their questions, GM and, to a certain extent, Unifor, leave them stranded. The program lets us feel that limbo state. During one scene, we see a worker, Kevin Craggs, move out of a house that he either is mortgaging or renting. A few scenes later, he moves in to a trailer, celebrating that transition with a drink that he calls a rum and coke slushie. The camerawork doesn’t overstate the drastic change but it lets us understand the new normal that GM is imposing on him.
Dias also feels that new normal, as he discusses it with one of his sons in law who also works at a plant. There’s an interesting dynamic here since both men are intermediaries. The son in law probably hears a more frank version of what the other workers think of Dias. The poor son in law has to hear from as many sides like us. This is one of the few cases where I wish the subtext became text. And there’s also something didactic about such conversations, which is common in TV documentaries like this.
Another inescapable issue here is how it never gets access inside the plant. But even then, the workers still express their sadness in the year long journey, trying to fight the inevitable. The program lets us feel that defeat and resilience through their body language. There’s also a lot of narration here, contextualizing the B footage that this show has to settle on. One worker, Rebecca Keetch, talks about how their last day of work together felt like a normal one. A collective battle becomes one that individuals take, but despite of this setback, they’ll keep on fighting.
Company Town is having its premiere at the Durham Region Film Festival on October 1st. The shorter version will then play on CBC on October 1oth.