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Near the end of "American Made Movie," a 2013 film documentary on American manufacturing that's just now gaining wide release in the U.S., the conversation turns to the most quintessential of American-made products: the Stars and Stripes.
Are the flags that people buy at stores actually made in America?
In South Boston, most people may know the answer to this question. "American Made Movie" clues in the rest of the world — by paying a visit to South Boston's Annin Flagmakers plant and interviewing the company's president, Carter Beard.
In an 85-minute film that skips smartly from the industrial ruins of Detroit to the rising manufacturing centers of East Asia and back again to America's small towns to witness their struggles to secure a place in the global economy, it's the South Boston segment that brings the core message home:
Yes, U.S. manufacturing is worth saving, and there are many people working to do so — successfully.
Produced by documentary filmmakers Nathaniel McGill and Vincent Vittorio, "American Made Movie" had limited release in U.S. cities last year and earned general acclaim — with the Los Angeles Times praising it as "patriotic but not overly rah-rah, inspiring without an excess of feel-good calculation." This month, the movie became available for viewing via cable video-on-demand and digital platforms; it's going on the web in May, and it will be available through Netflix and Hulu in the fall.
"America Made Movie" touches on issues that will be familiar to anyone who runs a small business, or works in the field of economic development, or has ever felt the impact of the decline of domestic manufacturing — which is to say most of us. Its elegiac images of closed factories come from visits to Rust Belt cities and hollowed-out southern towns, although South Boston, in a cameo role, is assigned the task of undercutting the conventional wisdom.
After posing the proverbial question — are American flags made in America? — the documentary cuts to an interview with Beard. (The segment was shot at Annin's New Jersey corporate office, where Beard works, although the film doesn't mention this fact.) Framed by snippets of the local plant shop floor, Beard recounts the company's long history of producing American flags since its founding in 1847. It was an Annin-made flag that draped the coffin of Abraham Lincoln, that flew atop the hill at Iwo Jima, that astronauts unfurled on the moon. Deep in the film, Beard touches on another signature event in U.S. history: the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.