Editor’s note: Gateway Arts Council will present the premiere screening of “Moving a Nation,” a film it produced to celebrate Shelby County workers, Oct. 15-16, at the Sidney Auto-Vue Drive-In. This is one of a series of stories that will chronicle the making of the documentary.
SIDNEY — When Gateway Arts Council (GAC) premieres its film, “Moving a Nation,” Oct. 15-16, at the Sidney Auto-Vue Drive-In, it will be the culmination of five years of planning, work and overcoming setbacks.
The movie honors the working people of Shelby County.
It all began during an early morning phone conversation between GAC Executive Director Ellen Keyes and GAC Board President Chris Gibbs in 2011.
“I was standing in line at the Speedway gas station, talking on my cell phone,” Keyes said. “The line at Speedway was really long, and I noticed how the cashier was smiling at everyone whom she helped. I mentioned this to Chris, and he commented that she probably had to get up at 3 a.m. to get to work to make those cups of coffee those individuals were buying. Chris suggested that we do a photography exhibit in the Gateway Gallery celebrating people that work.”
A Ronnie Dunn song, “Cost of Living,” inspired the two to consider a project like GAC’s 2008 “Images from the Land Concert,” during which photographs of local farms were exhibited while the Sidney Civic Band performed music. They called photographer Pat Elsass, of Botkins, and asked him to start shooting.
“One of our goals at that meeting was to make a demo that would help us explain the project to people,” Keyes said. “Once the demo was complete, we met with a group of individuals from the community to get input on the project and formed a committee.”
The committee met regularly for a year and a half. Meetings were filled with discussions about which businesses and industries to include in the photos.
“Each time a list was drawn up, someone would add three or four more. It became very evident that Shelby County had way too many businesses and industries to all be included in this project,” Keyes said.
The committee decided to group them into categories: transportation, construction, retail, manufacturing. Elsass spent the next two years taking pictures in more than 30 facilities.
“The biggest challenge was (framing photos) so we didn’t photograph proprietary rights, labels and things,” he said. “We had to be careful what we photographed. I was pretty well-tethered.”
The project began to generate interest throughout the working community.
“Everywhere we went, we were very excited coming away because the people (we photographed) were excited,” Elsass said. “People like their jobs. Everywhere we went, it seemed like there were fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives (who had worked in the same place) for multiple years. If you’re going to work there and then bring your son or daughter in and be there for years, something must be all right.”
As he took more and more pictures, it became evident to Keyes, Gibbs and their committee that their initial idea of a one-hour program was much too small.
“We needed to step back and sift through what we had, both in pictures and ideas,” Keyes said. And then, a committee member was sidelined by serious health problems. The whole project was put on hold.
“During this hiatus, Chris, Pat and I would occasionally meet. We talked about staying true to the original concept. We were determined to keep this presentation about celebrating and honoring people who work, but we couldn’t come up with the way to tie all the pictures together in one story,” Keyes said.
That changed when Elsass watched a promotional trailer for a film about the building of a new school building in Botkins.
“I thought that just might be the avenue we were after,” he said. Elsass talked to the filmmaker, John Ondo, of Columbus.
“He came and shared his views with the rest of the committee. They felt the same way,” Elsass said. The project’s concept changed from a concert-with-photos to a documentary film.
In July 2015, Ondo began to videotape Shelby Countians doing their jobs. He is still at it this month, as the committee pushes to finish everything in time for the announced premiere. The movie is an amalgamation of Ondo’s videos and Elsass’s still photographs.
“While the format has changed, what remains the same is that the project is still a celebration of people who work every day in Shelby County,” Keyes said.
Reach the writer at 9370538-4824.