Tales of trucking industry’s struggles hit the big (computer) screen

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. –At first glance, the National Film Board (NFB) has produced a story consisting of five short films, or episodes, about how this recession has affected the trucking industry, and put them on the Internet. Their true importance, however, is that they serve as an invitation to all Canadians to submit to the NFB comments, pictures or even videos of their trucking experiences in these miserable times.

These NFB Trucker episodes – each about three-and-a-half minutes long -are part of a larger NFB project called GDP -Measuring the Human Side of the Economic Crisis. They’re designed to chronicle some of the hardships people have endured since the US-caused recession went atomic in 2008.

There are 15 stories on the go; ie. women in debt, farmers, auto workers and restaurant owners. Independent filmmakers contracted by NFB started filming the stories of these people last September and will follow them and add episodes to their stories for a full year.

The idea for the Trucker series came from the mind of independent filmmaker Helen Choquette, hired by the NFB as GDP project director in chief. “I thought that by adding a truck story we would be able to reach communities where the crisis is (playing out),” she said.

The first film in the Trucker’s story A bump in the road is a thumbnail history of the giant Quebec carrier Groupe Guilbault. We see truck yard and office scenes and 1930-vintage NFB archival footage of a man loading crates into a truck. Company president Jean Guilbault explains that north-south traffic has dropped by 65% in the past two years. Terminal manager and CEO Eric Gignac comments, “Trucking is a barometer for the economy.” A dispatcher tells a driver, “I’ve got absolutely nothing for you. Come back home.”

Groupe Guilbault continues to be present, more or less, in the next four episodes. In Truck stop, we meet a driver who has driven 32 years for Guilbault, but after a few limp comments about no logging trucks that day in the Abitibi boondocks, he buttons up for the night at a truck stop. The camera moves the rest of us inside, where two owner/operators are propping up the counter. They look like they have smoked themselves half to death. They variously grumble, in that grumbly trucker way, about debt and how the cost of a truck has risen from $80Gs to $140Gs in the past 20 years.

“It’s not the ideal job,” Soul Patch grunts around his fries.

“We’ve got no choice. We can’t afford to stop,” adds Ball Cap. Soul Patch gets up, travel coffee mug in his mitt: “Got to get back to work.” The camera pans an empty logging trailer and some orphaned tires in an attempt to dampen the mood.

Episode three, Green Shoots in Temiscaming, starts with a cameo appearance by a Guilbault tractor bobtailing across a dirt parking lot. Two honks of the horn, a couple glimpses of the town of Temiscaming and some poor woman’s well-fed behind later, we move on to the real, non-trucking story: Claude Brisson and his drive to launch a company that will make wood stove pellets out of logging leftovers. The president of Ecoflamme, he laments banks’ reluctance to fund forestry-related companies. We see birch brush piles and some roots in a clear cut. Since logging is, like, not happening, the raw material Brisson needs is rotting on the ground. Uh-oh.

Nighthawks at the diner stars Chantal, a waitress in Restaurant Francinette, in Stoneham. Four years on the graveyard shift have done her no favours and when I learn from Choquette that the joint closed – something about the highway having moved -I feel happy that Chantal can finally get some sleep. Anyway, business is down. There are no midnight rushes. Truckers are packing their own grub. The booths are empty. But wait! Is that five happy truckers bellied up to the counter? Is one of them is reading the horoscope? But faster than ketchup off an Englishman’s table, the boys vanish. Chantal and some sad piano music are alone again. Did I forget to mention that I saw another Guilbault trucker?

Moving along to Forging ahead, ‘Richard’ at Guilbault has a pick-up at Saguenay Foundry. Nice shots of molten metal. Hard Hat: “We’re hanging in there.” Get the connection? Orders? Trucking?

Call me mean, but considering the devastation in this industry, I find Trucking a bit soft in the tires, a bit short of a full load. What is so wonderful though, is that the NFB has designed this quite fascinating Web site ( http://gdp.nfb.ca/stories) so us amateurs can add our voices. “Our hope is that truckers will respond to this call for action,” says Patricia Dillon, NFB communications and publicist for the GDP project. That’s my hope too.

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