JANESVILLE — Angela Hodges works in Fort Wayne, Ind., but calls Beloit home.
Every Friday night when she finishes her shift at the Fort Wayne General Motors plant she drives the 260 plus miles back home to Beloit and to her son and mother.
Hodges was one of the thousands laid off when GM shut down its Janesville assembly plant in 2008. She is also one of the subjects of a new documentary film titled As Goes Janesville.
The documentary, created by filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein, follows Hodges, Gayle Listenbee and Cindy Deegan, all of Beloit, as they make the choice of whether or not to take the transfer to Fort Wayne, or look for another lower paying job.
As Goes Janesville will have a hometown premier at 5 p.m. Sunday at Parker High School, 3125 W. Mineral Point Road, Janesville. The film will premier at 9 p.m. on Oct. 8 on PBS.
For Hodges, it’s all about putting in about three more years with the company, which would give her 30 years with GM.
As for why she doesn’t just move to Indiana, it’s simple: Her life is here.
“My son is here, my mother is here, this is my home,” she said.
It’s the same for Listenbee who works the third shift at the Indiana plant.
Listenbee is also three years away from 30 years with GM and a full pension. After the Janesville plant closed, Listenbee knew she wanted to stay with GM.
“I couldn’t give up my pension,” she said. “I’m too close. I don’t think I could find the type of wages here that I have now with the transfer, and I’m not willing to start over.”
Listenbee said she has it easier than most of the people she commutes with every week because her husband is retired. Every summer when her kids, Spencer and Skylar, are done with school the family stays in Fort Wayne.
Lichtenstein followed the women for about two years starting in March of 2009. At first Hodges was uncomfortable in front of the camera, but started to feel better the more the crew was there.
“I didn’t expect them to follow us for two years,” Hodges said.
Listenbee said the crew made her feel very comfortable even though being filmed didn’t feel natural.
Lichtenstein, whose wife grew up in Janesville, said he had a lot of connections to the area. When the economy collapsed he wanted to tell a story that would be “timeless.”
“I wanted to show how a community reinvents itself and rebuilds itself,” he said.
He knew he wanted to feature people who were laid off from the Janesville plant almost immediately after he came up with the concept of the film.
He also knew he wanted to focus on women that were laid off because it told a different story compared to the men that were laid off.
“These women had to figure out how to win the bread again, and the changing role of leaving the family and transferring or trying to find a new job in the area,” he said.
He found the subjects of the film by going on a “listening tour” and visiting churches, and other venues interviewing people that would work with the film.
The film also follows Mary Willmer, community president of BMO Harris Bank, as she starts up Rock County 5.0, a group of business leaders looking to stimulate the economy in the county.
State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, is also featured in the film during the turmoil last summer when Walker looked to pass Act 10, which stripped state unions of most of their collective bargaining rights.