Poletown Lives! (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 17, Number 2, May 1987
- pp. 48-49
- Additional Information
Film Review Poletown Lives! (56 minutes; 16 mm; 1983). Can be rented or purchased through the Information Factory, 3513 Courville, Detroit, Michigan. Poletown Lives! by George Corsetti, Jeanie Wylie and Richard Wieske is a wellmade , powerful and poignant study of the struggle between haves and have nots in contemporary, urban America. The setting is Detroit in the early 1980s. On the one side are the residents of Poletown, an integrated, working-class community. On the other side are General Motors, the city of Detroit, Archdiocese of Detroit, and the UAW. At issue is whether Poletown needs to be destroyed in order to make room for a new GM plant which promises to bring 6,000 new jobs to job-hungry Detroit. The film opens with a dramatic meeting of Poletown residents protesting the sacrifice of their community for the new GM assembly plant. Through a series of skillful interviews and newsclips the parameters of the conflict are delineated. While the residents of Poletown proudly describe their neighborhood as stable, integrated and working-class, a GM spokesperson portrays it as "distressed and decaying." Detroit's very real need for industry and jobs pushes Mayor Coleman Young and the UAW into support for the project. When the Archdiocese of Detroit joins with GM, the city and the UAW, the unholy alliance is complete and the destruction of the neighborhood is assured. In a valiant but futile struggle to survive, the community mobilizes. Old and young, white and black, the residents of Poletown come together to form the Poletown Neighborhood Council. The only significant outside support for Poletown comes from Ralph Nader who not only provides five staff members to the Council but publically lambasts the industry/government alliance as "corporate socialism" and questions whether the new plant will indeed provide the promised jobs. The Poletown campaign begins moderately: letters to GM; attempts to meet with company officials; the presentation of alternative architectural plans which would permit building of the plant and yet preserve the community; and legal maneuvers to halt the project. Moderation turns to militancy as the destruction of the neighborhood accelerates and GM's description of the community as "distressed and decaying " becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Poletown residents announce a boycott of GM products, picket the 1981 GM stockholders meeting; demonstrate outside the downtown offices of the Archdiocese after two neighborhood churches are sold; and take a bulldozer to the home of GM's president on Mother's Day to dramatize the plight of mothers in Poletown. The final and futile confrontation between Poletown and the power structure comes as police Swat teams evict residents from their 28 day "sitdown" in the neigh48 borhood church. The pathos of the Poletown "sitdown" is especially heartbreaking when one thinks of the UAW's successful 1930s sitdown strike against GM, immortalized in the film With Babies and Banners. Poletown's deathknell is sounded as police lines keep the weeping residents from the demolition site as the church is torn down. By December of 1981, 18 months after the battle lines were drawn, Poletown is gone. Although overall Poletown Lives! is a technically well-made, effective film, there are some shortcomings. A major unanswered question is why this particular site was chosen. Perhaps more information about Poletown's history and GM's relationship to the community would have yielded valuable insight into this question. It also would have been helpful to have had more information about why the Archdiocese and the city supported GM's site selection and why the city did not consider the alternative plans. In addition, the film touches upon the UAW's support for the project, but does not explore whether that support was solely at the leadership level or if it extended to the rank and file. Finally, the film leaves unanswered how the neighborhood council was organized and who its leaders were. Despite these questions, Poletown Lives! is a powerful and important film that raises many universal issues regarding power relationships, decision-making, and community survival in modern America. Margaret Wilson Florida International University ...