Two award-winning documentary filmmakers from Clinton are in a race against the clock.
Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young are in the final phases of completing their latest film, “Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work.” The film tells the personal stories of employee-owned businesses that compete successfully in today’s economy, while providing secure, dignified jobs in democratic workplaces.
But in order to finish the film, they have until 7 a.m. Friday, May 4 to raise the final $7,000 of the $30,000 needed to reach their goal. They’ve managed to make a little more than $23,000 in three weeks, according to the www.kickstarter.com webpage, the online crowd-based funding platform used by a variety of artists for creative projects.
“It is a project that has been equally grueling and exhilarating; sobering and uplifting; exhausting and encouraging,” Young said.
“I’ve been very impressed by the examples I’ve seen of democratically run enterprises in Mondragon (Spain) and in the U.S. These organizations operate in all sectors — engineering, baking, green house-cleaning, fair-trade food, home health care, pharmacies, cab companies, breweries. They paint a new picture of work creatively and equitably re-imagined.”
Take a look at the six minute preview they posted online about a month ago, which already has been watched by 15,000 people around the world; http://shiftchange.org.
Although they are local producers based in Clinton, the project, they said, has both a global and a local relevance this year in what the United Nations has declared the “International Year of the Cooperative.”
The film came out of a desire by both Dworkin and Young to tell the story of how well things can work if people are looking out for each other in a way that benefits the entire community.
“Mark told me that the wonderful thing he sees in these companies is the similar way things operate in a small community, such as the one we have on South Whidbey,” Young said.
She mentioned the influence of community-minded projects on the people who live in the area such as Friends of Friends Medical Support Fund, Hearts & Hammers, the Watershed Stewards, Good Cheer Food Bank and the Clyde Theatre and how that affects the whole.
“One thing we found so interesting and so attractive about these worker cooperatives is that they are looking out for something broader than just individual interests,” Young said.
Why make this film?
With the long decline in American manufacturing and today’s economic crisis, millions of people have been thrown out of work, and many have lost or are losing their homes. The usual economic solutions are not working, and people are looking for other ways to create long term community stability, increase employment and rebuild social equity, the filmmakers wrote on the Shift Change website. There is growing interest in firms that are owned and managed by their workers, which tend to be more profitable and innovative, more responsive to the needs of the local community, while providing secure jobs in democratic workplaces. Yet the public has little knowledge of the promise they offer for a better life.
“I know that these stories will change the way that many people think,” Young said.
The filmmakers focused on worker-owned enterprises in North America and in Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain.
Basque country has a long industrial history, and particularly around the town of Mondragon, they saw factories everywhere that produce household appliances, auto parts, industrial machinery, etc. But in addition to that, many institutions are organized as coops, such as Mondragon University, a banking system, language training centers, social service agencies, research and development centers and a major supermarket chain. Employees in the Mondragon coop system number around 85,000.
They also went to the Arizmendi Bakeries, six worker owned and managed bakeries in the Bay Area of California, which work together to provide the financial and legal services they need, and to incubate new bakeries; the Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, Ohio, local institutions that support cooperatives of once marginalized workers, to provide green commercial laundry services, install solar energy systems, and grow vegetables in vast urban greenhouses; Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing in Madison, Wis., a workers’ cooperative that designs and builds custom automation equipment for high tech industries; the EBO Group in Akron, Ohio, a 100 percent worker owned company whose precision products include clutches for tunnel boring equipment, medical stretcher-chairs, solar energy equipment and drives to enhance performance of hybrid vehicles; the Cooperative Home Care Associates of Bronx, NY, the democratically managed cooperative of more than 1,600 unionized home-health care workers that has greatly improved working conditions and set new standards for home-health care workers nationwide; and Boston’s Equal Exchange, the world’s largest worker-owned and managed roaster of fair traded coffee that also imports fair trade chocolate, tea and bananas.
“I believe that the visions of success we are presenting in ‘Shift Change’ will mobilize people to seek new possibilities in their own workplaces, businesses, communities and lives,” Young said.
These filmmakers are no strangers to socially-conscious filmmaking. Together with the nonprofit production company, Moving Images, these Whidbey Island residents have been helping to promote global justice and environmental protection through their films since the late 1980s.
In 2008, Dworkin and Young were honored with three CINE Golden Eagle Awards for “Argentina — Hope in Hard Times,” which documented that country’s response to an economic collapse in 2001. The film covered the social movement that broke out in Argentina during the crisis, taking the viewer through the street protests, worker-controlled factories, barter fairs and the transformation of a Citibank building into a community center.
Their most recent film, “We Are Not Ghosts” features people in Detroit who have a new vision for their devastated rust-belt city and are rebuilding from the ground up.
Young said they have a realistic view of the variety of changes that need to take place if society is going to be able to sustain itself. They see the message of “Shift Change” as one piece of the pie.
“Employee owned and managed enterprises are not the only solution to many of the difficulties we face,” Young said, “but they demonstrate that it is possible to make a difference, and to contribute toward a society with more equality and fairness — a society of which I will be proud to be a part.”
Young said she sees their appeal through Kickstarter to help get “Shift Change” made as another part of the cooperative continuum.
The filmmakers hope to finish the film this summer. They are enthused by the huge response they’ve received from the preview.
Young’s message is direct to potential donors on Kickstarter.
“With your help, we’ll finish the project and show that it is possible to have a successful business where employees have a stake and a say,” she said.
Go to www.shiftchange.org to get more of the story or to make a pledge.