Web documentary asks: How does a city reinvent itself?

Apr 11, 2013

The Reinvention Stories project highlights seven residents of Dayton, Ohio and their stories of reinvention after the shutdown of the GM plant.
The Reinvention Stories project highlights seven residents of Dayton, Ohio and their stories of reinvention after the shutdown of the GM plant.
Credit Reinventionstories.org

Hostess. Nordyne. Fuqua Building Systems. AP Green.

The shutdown of all these plants signaled the loss of hundreds of Missouri jobs. Now imagine if it was just one powerhouse plant that helped define a city – a city known for its innovation and production.

“Dayton, Ohio has a big legacy of invention,” filmmaker Steve Bognar says. “From the car starter, to the step ladder, to the pop top can, to the cash register [having been] invented here.”

But imagine that plant closes. How does a city of inventors reinvent itself in this new time?

Bognar and Julia Reichert are documentary filmmakers from Dayton, Ohio. You might know them from their 2006 Emmy-award winning documentary “A Lion in the House.”  One of their most recent documentaries, though, was “The Last Truck.” The film follows the shutdown of the General Motors Plant in Dayton, Ohio and the workers who were affected. It was that film that inspired them to take documentary to a whole different medium – the Web. Both filmmakers came to Columbia for the 2013 True/False Festival to debut their project.

“The idea was kind of with us when we began meeting with autoworkers and realizing that all thousands of their lives were going to change.  It was very much on our minds. But then this opportunity came up work with our station.”

With funding from a new initiative from the Association of Independents in Radio called Localore, Reichert and Bognar teamed up with their local public radio station WYSO  and mapped out the mission of the reinvention project.

Reinvention Stories” is an experiment in bringing real life documentary stories into the potential of an interactive environment. This includes short movies, photographs and audio storytelling. You can sit back and let the majority of it auto-play for you, or choose your own adventure by clicking around.

“To my mind, it’s kind of experimental,” Reichert tells KBIA.  “I don’t know of anything else like it, so it’s hard to make a reference. We’re finding it difficult to have a simple answer to ‘what is it.’”

This site is a little different. Here’s how it works: A short movie pops up when you access the site. You’re introduced to a handful of characters in the context of their stories. Some of them have been laid off, some are starting new businesses, some are dealing with family loss, but all of them are at a point in their life where they’re reinventing themselves.

“People starting their lives over, either because they needed to, they had to or because they decided to,” Reichert says.

Reichert and Bognar found dozens of stories by just walking the streets of Dayton and saying hello.

Each story presents a possible emotional connection for the audience thanks to the diverse voices the filmmakers found. The entire piece is arranged in three acts where each person in the project tells their story by answering three questions: Who was I? What happened? Whom am I trying to become?

“These people are not civic leaders, corporate titans or anything [like that],” Bognar says. “We all have stories to tell. Some of us have gone through very hard times. Just as we trusted to fate to come upon stories randomly on the streets of our town, we also know that there are hundreds we didn’t get to hear.”

Ultimately, Reichert and Bognar want these stories to be relatable to any listener. Dayton really is an example of hundreds of communities across the U.S. dealing with a slowly recovering economy and a chance to decide what it wants to be.

“Even if things crash for you or fall apart, you can go at it again,” Reichert says. "You can try again. You can reach out for help. You can restart your life. I think that’s a lot of what’s going on in the country.”

“We are believers in the power of story,” Bognar says. “For as long as people could tell stories, stories have helped us understand the world and helped us understand what we can get through...These stories are hopefully road maps to help people get through hard times.”

The project can be found at Reinventionstories.org.

This story originally aired as part of Business Beat, a weekly program about business and economics in mid-Missouri.