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‘American Jobs': A Labor of Conscience

19 Jan, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

Like many other people observing the nation's latest jobless recovery, filmmaker Greg Spotts' interest in the subject started close to home.

“In the spring of 2003, I was noticing that a lot of my friends were unemployed,” he said. “I was reading about this economic recovery, but I was not seeing it anecdotally. I started to wonder if there was a disconnect between what was happening and what was being reported. I was doing some reading every day about the economy, trade agreements and outsourcing. The more I read, the more I felt there was a story out there. I got the idea of taking a camera out to see how people felt.”

So early last year, Spotts, a TV editor, (Disinformation Company, Feb. 22, prebook Feb. 4, $14.95 DVD only), an hourlong film about the impact of American jobs moving overseas. Although he finds the trend disturbing, he consciously set out to get views from all sides and not take a position.

“The film is really designed to be a nonpartisan experience where you raise questions by hearing the people who have experienced it,” he said. “A key thing in the project was an early decision to make it nonpartisan. That opened doors to Bible Belt Republicans and to key trade representatives.… I didn't think either party deserved the right to be the white knight.”

The result is a film that shows how globalization has affected American workers, not only in manufacturing and textile jobs, but also in aerospace engineering and other technical positions. With only an hour to tell the story, the film touches on a variety of social consequences, including the impact on Americans as consumers.

“It is not like watching a filmstrip from social studies class, Spotts said. It is really focused on people and their experience.”

Spotts hopes the same independent voice and heartland spirit that helped him make the movie will make retailers embrace it, and he sees independent retailers as important to spreading messages that might not be presented on CNN or Fox News (although the project has won praise from the likes of Lou Dobbs and Tavis Smiley).

“It is going to be the video store that is either a gatekeeper rejecting the independent filmmaker or a fertile seedbed for these kinds of ideas,” he said. “That is actually an opportunity for the home video retailer to be a place to go to tap into these kinds of ideas. There is a growing richness that is coming on DVD for any niche, from the person who wants holistic yoga to the person who wants Waverunner riding. It is there.”

Spotts followed American Jobs with a tour, doing private screenings for social and labor groups, and wrote a book on the subject late last year.

“In the near term, I am focused on trying to defeat CAFTA [the pending Central American Free Trade Agreement, which would extend NAFTA policies to five poor Central American countries]. NAFTA was enabled primarily to let companies source their labor cheaper, but there is a resistance building. I'm hoping that in my own little universe that what I have done with the film is something a person only recently could do, where a person who didn't go to film school and wasn't wealthy could make a film and get it out there,” he said. “To some degree, we have not seen an enormous range of new voices. I think that is just starting, and I am really excited about what we are going to see from that and how it is going to connect with political action.”

It must have connected with someone, because Spotts and his crew were able to get musicians such as Randy Newman, Dr. John and Ricky Lee Jones to accept lower-than-usual fees to use their songs on the film.

With a baby on the way and his eyes on the future, Spotts hopes to make more documentaries and tackle other subjects, but his work on American Jobs is hard to leave behind.

“I do feel like I have taken a glimpse over the edge and seen that the crater in the volcano is open and bubbling,” he said. “That worries me. So I feel some kind of responsibility in staying involved in this issue. But the other thing that impacted me is going out in the field, so I know I will keep doing that. There is just something incredibly eye-opening and mind-expanding about going out into people's communities and finding out what they are going through. It almost makes your comfortable little world too comfortable.”

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