SIDNEY — Gateway Arts Council (GAC) has announced that, after a more than two-year hiatus, it is ready to complete a project celebrating work and workers in Shelby County.
In August 2013, the organization began a video/music project based on the courtsquare sculpture by George Danhires that commemorates industry. Pat Elsass, of Botkins, began then to take still photographs of people performing their jobs in all kinds of workplaces.
Now, Columbus filmmaker John Ondo will shoot video footage and interviews and combine his output with Elsass’s to create a documentary film.
“The title is ‘Shelby County Workforce: Moving a Nation,’” said GAC President Chris Gibbs. “We’re really focusing on labor and people, the people who get up every day and work, the businesses that we have here in Shelby County that have started from scratch.”
Ondo was in town Wednesday to film at Lochards Inc. and Ron & Nita’s and will return often during the next couple of months. His firm, Ondo Media, recently completed a documentary about the transition from old school to new in Botkins, is beginning a similar piece for Jackson Center schools and won an Emmy Award for a documentary about Gomer School near Lima.
“The thing I’ve been impressed with as a filmmaker and storyteller is that Shelby County industry is growing,” Ondo told the Sidney Daily News by phone Thursday. “In big cities, buildings are rusting. In Shelby County there’s a workforce and businesses that have been there for 100-plus years that are thriving. We’re going to focus on the blue collar workers that make it happen.”
He likened what will be the finished product to the “typical Ken Burns documentaries” that incorporate still photos, video footage and interviews.
“While Ken Burns does a great job with the Civil War and baseball — big events — Shelby County and small towns have stories, too,” Ondo said. “Part of my role as a filmmaker and storyteller is to show ordinary people who do extraordinary things.”
Plans call for the film to be finished by fall. In the meantime, area residents will soon be able to follow its progress on a Facebook page. They will be encouraged to share their own stories there, too, Ondo said.
“The idea is to give a holistic look at the county,” said Executive Director Ellen Keyes in 2013. “Industry” in this case isn’t just manufacturing, she noted then. The project will document work in the restaurant, retail, construction and transportation industries, as well.
“This film will be in segments,” Keyes said Thursday. “This isn’t a history of industry, but history will be in it. Then it will move to what’s happening currently.” During filming thus far, she said, she has been struck by the perseverence, adaptablity, sacrifice and sense of family exhibited by businesses and their employees.
“They are humble, gracious, wonderful people,” she said. “And you don’t realize how many businesses around here have roots after World War II and have been passed down through family.”
Ondo cautioned planners that the film could go in unanticipated directions.
“The stories unravel in unpredictable ways. I told them, ‘Don’t get married to one specific storyline too quickly.’ I refer to it as a treasure hunt. I’m sure we’ll find some treasures,” he said.
The final product should be an hour long. That’s Ondo’s biggest challenge.
“There’s a lot of story here. I have a whole basket of apples to work from and I can only make one pie. The challenge is to make it a compelling story,” he said.
Keyes hopes to premiere the documentary during a free event that will be open to the public. After that, schools, libraries, the Chamber of Commerce, the Shelby County Economic Partnership and other organizations may want to use the full documentary or parts of it. Ondo would like it to have a life outside the local area, too.
“I really would like to see people outside of Shelby County watch it and be impressed. But I’d also like to see something that people will still see in 50 years,” he said.
Planners hope it particularly touches high school students and shows those who don’t really want to sit behind a desk after graduation that other kinds of contributions are necessary to society.
“At the end of the day, we want to celebrate people who are getting up every day and chasing the American dream by working hard,” Gibbs said.
In doing so, Keyes said, people may be prouder of Shelby County.
“They don’t realize what we have here,” she said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.