VW's 'Chattanooga Story' turns heads in film world

VW's 'Chattanooga Story' turns heads in film world

December 31st, 2013 by Mike Pare in Carscruisin

CHATTANOOGA PREMIERE

An invitation-only showing of "The Chattanooga Story: A German Carmaker Goes To Tennessee" will be Jan. 9 at the Tennessee Aquarium's IMAX Theater.

In this file photograph from 2010, Auburn students Michael Glenboski, left, and Dylan Cook answer questions at the Hunter Museum of American Art about their contest winning bridge entry as Susanne Schmidt and photographer George Barns film for a documentary about the Volkswagen plant.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Volkswagen officials knew they were making history when the German automaker decided to bring vehicle production back to the U.S., with its $1 billion Chattanooga plant helping put VW on an arc toward its goal -- to become the world's largest car company.

Since work on the plant began in 2008 and assembly was launched, the factory's all-new Passat sedan has fueled VW car sales to nearly double in the U.S. while turning an industry focus onto the Scenic City.

A documentary tracing VW's return of car-making to America has won a key award at a film festival in Cannes, France. United Visions Moving Media captured a Silver Dolphin award at the Cannes Corporate Media & TV ceremony for "The Chattanooga Story. A German Carmaker Goes to Tennessee."

"The Cannes jury honored our effort to show the people behind the development, to tell their story at length," said John Lionel Bandmann, president and editor-in-chief of United Visions, the German film company that created the roughly 100-minute documentary.

Directed by Susanne Schmidt, the film was shot over nearly four years. It begins with the automaker's 2008 decision on a U.S. location and follows the factory's construction, the 2011 opening and the production launch.

The film, to be shown on an invitation-only basis on Jan. 9 in Chattanooga, provides insights into challenges faced by the German carmaker in terms of planning and completion of the factory that employs about 2,700 people. It also emphasizes the team of individuals who took part in the effort that included Europeans, South Americans, Australians and Americans.

VW spokesman Scott Wilson, who has seen the film, said the automaker financed production of "The Chattanooga Story" because officials knew the importance of coming back to the U.S. after VW had closed a Pennsylvania assembly plant in 1988.

"We wanted to make sure it was documented for the ages," he said. "The rest of the story is still being written."

Wilson said all of VW's local employees at the plant will receive a DVD of the film, and he has had brief discussions about putting it on local TV.

Don Raymond, vice president of the Chattanooga Film Society, said German filmmakers know their craft. He said he was at the 2011 grand opening and watched the work of the German film director and crew then.

BY THE NUMBERS

Worldwide sales by automaker in 2012:

• Toyota: 9.75 million

• General Motors: 9.29 million

• Volkswagen: 9.09 million

Source: Auto companies

Raymond recalled that a mini-Darth Vader reprised the theme of a popular VW Super Bowl commercial that had run earlier in the year.

Bandmann said in an email that segments of the documentary have been shown on various German TV stations, though the entire film hasn't publicly debuted yet.

He said the long-term documentary format isn't often found in today's hectic television business.

"It means not only showing results but the process leading to them over a long time period," Bandmann said.

J.Ed. Marston, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of marketing, said the documentary should help market the city as a place to do business.

"A number of German companies ... have made significant investments here," he said. "We hope this will continue to grow and build, and it will be easier to attract additional companies."

Through the film, Bandmann said, people have discovered Chattanooga. He termed the city "a charming place with breathtaking environment and a high quality of living ... with a highly flexible, efficient, state-of-the-art industrial site."

He said that after the documentary received the award, distribution companies will spread the film and its messages even wider.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.