Jeff Sabatini knows that it takes courage to stray from your chosen path.
After graduating in 1994 with a dual degree in English and film and video studies from the University, Sabatini left Ann Arbor to pursue a career as a freelance journalist for the New York Times.
But after putting his English major to good use as a writer, Sabatini decided to give his other degree a try.
“Foreman,” a 10-minute documentary, is the culmination of his efforts. The film was accepted into the prestigious Ann Arbor Film Festival and will premiere tonight at 7 p.m.
“Foreman” tells the story of Jerry Bowden, Sabatini’s father-in-laaw, a General Motors employee who worked in the Flint plant until its closure in 1999.
“(He was) in the plant, a lowest-level supervisor,” Sabatini said. “He was right there with all the blue-collar people. But they’re doing away with lower-level management as they switch management styles, so he’s the last of the era of guys in the United States who worked their way up and became white-collar management employees.”
The film gave Sabatini a chance to combine his journalistic experience in the automotive world with his knowledge of film. “I love my job and writing about cars,” he said. “Now I’m using it in a different way.”
Sabatini first thought of focusing on multiple workers at the plant, but decided to focus on his father-in-law’s experience there instead. With the help of BulletProof films, a Chicago-based production company, Sabatini interviewed Bowden and his friends. He gathered stock footage of the plant, as well as training films and shots of Flint today.
Making this biographical documentary was a new experience for Sabatini on many levels. Materials and techniques have changed since he was a film major in the early ’90s. The process of making the film was a way for Sabatini to acquaint himself with current technology.
“The biggest challenge comes from my own learning curve,” he said. “I (first) learned how to shoot on film and make primarily narrative fiction films. This was a way to teach myself how to use digital video and edit it on a computer.”
Sabatini used MiniDV film and edited the entire movie on his computer – a far cry from the cutting room he used during his time at the University.
The learning experience paid off, as out of more than 2,000 films entered in the festival, “Foreman” is one of fewer than 150 chosen. Sabatini says his inclusion encourages him to continue this mode of documentary expression. “I have fallen in love with journalism and telling true stories instead of making them up,” he said. “Documentaries are important and people are beginning to recognize (that).”
Sabatini is hopeful for the future and excited about the doors that technological advances have opened for filmmakers. “The one overriding thing is you can do it, and there is no reason that anyone with a good idea (who) wants to make a movie can’t,” he said.