“10 Questions for Henry Ford” seeks answers from the ghost of the automotive icon

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The hour-long film “10 Questions for Henry Ford” gets right to the point. “Why are you still here? He asks the pioneering carmaker’s ghost.

Ford (played by actor John Lepard) doesn’t seem sure why he’s lingering in the 21st century as he walks through the grounds of Greenfield Village, the open-air living museum he created in Dearborn.

“Not many people pick me up these days,” he says in the internal monologue that provides the film’s narration. “They’re mostly tourists, and they really just want to take the train and eat caramel. And, of course, they can’t see me anyway.”

America has always struggled to confront the hard truths about its past, as the events of 2021 continue to demonstrate. The parallels between the contemporary rise of hatred and Ford’s anti-Semitism of a century ago are what fueled Andy Kirshner’s new film, which falls into the genre of docu-fiction.

“10 Questions for Henry Ford” is based on the statements and actual writings of the imperfect titan he describes, but it takes a creative leap in terms of how he tells his story.

“In my case, the fiction is that Henry is a ghost, but everything else is based on the historical record and the things he said,” says Kirshner, associate professor at the Stamps School of Art & Design and at the School of Music at the University of Michigan. , Theater & Dance.

A multi-talented artist who has done innovative work in music, theater and film, Kirshner plans to attend the world premiere of his latest film on Saturday at the Ojai Film Festival in California.

From Tuesday to November 14, it will be available to watch online through the virtual portion of the event.

Following:How Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism stings in 2019

Following:Dearborn mayor sack historic commissioner amid dispute over anti-Semitism

The film combines archival black and white footage with color scenes shot at historic sites like Fair Lane, Henry and Clara Ford’s Former Home, and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford Estate in Grosse Pointe Shores. Ford’s ghost, clad in a dark suit and wearing a boater hat, wanders this modern world as he reflects on his life, at one point taking a wistful turn on the People Mover of downtown Detroit.

Questions asked on screen through printed text are straightforward and fair. “But why did you hate the Jews? is one of them. “Why did you humiliate Edsel?” And “How did the friend of the worker become the enemy of the work?” are two more.

Ford’s Ugly Beliefs – beginning in 1920, the newspaper he owned spent nearly two years publishing articles attacking Jews, and the articles were later grouped into four books titled “The International Jew” – are explored . The same goes for his bullying treatment of his son, Edsel, and his vitriol against union organizers.

Kirshner spoke to Free Press about the film and why he thinks it’s important to remember Ford in all its complexity. “I felt it was important to fill in the portrait of Henry, so that we had this idea of ​​who he was and not just the myth.”

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Writer-director-composer Andy Kirshner, whose film "10 questions for Henry Ford" premiered at the Ojai Film Festival.

QUESTION: Why were you drawn to this topic?

REPLY: As you know from living in Michigan, Henry Ford is everywhere. There is the Henry Ford Hospital. There is the Henry Ford Museum. There is the Ford highway, etc. I had always heard that Henry Ford was an anti-Semite, but I didn’t know much about it. I started reading biographies and found out not only that he was an anti-Semite, but that he had been a very influential anti-Semite and probably the most influential American anti-Semite in history, which I did not know. not.

I think back when I really decided to start the movie there was an increase in anti-Semitism around the world in these right-wing neo-fascist movements. The more I studied this story of Henry Ford in the 1920s and 1930s and the various movements he was associated with, the more I began to see parallels between that period and that period – things like domestic terrorism, a lot of anti-Semitism. , this kind of self-defense movements, the militias.

And also this division of the country into rural and urban, which is not new. It was something that was very present in the days of Henry Ford. He was very suspicious of the changes that were taking place in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that kind of urbanization. He was very suspicious of liberal elites and so on. There was just a lot of resonance between then and now.

Q: It seems that Henry Ford was reacting against what his technological success had fostered: his factories bringing people to cities to work, his wages helping immigrants and others to join the middle class.

A: This is part of what is so fascinating about it. Here is this guy who is probably more than anyone responsible for how Detroit developed, but also for the Second Industrial Revolution and the assembly line that changed the nature of work and the automobile, which totally changed the nature of work and the automobile. changed the landscape. And yet, he still has nostalgia for that rural past of his childhood and has always considered himself a farmer.

You’ve probably been to Greenfield Village, which is his creation, sort of his ideal vision of America, mythologized. This is what he imagined America should be, which is basically rural America plus the T-models. In the last days of his life, after the Ford Rouge factory was built and 80s employed. 000 people at his peak, he didn’t really want to spend time at the Rouge factory. He wanted to spend time in Greenfield Village. He wanted to live his childhood, in a way. It is extremely ironic.

Ford Motor Company security guards beat Richard Frankensteen, a UAW organizer, in the Viaduct Battle in 1937 at the Dearborn Rouge factory.

Q: As you write the narration for the ghost of Henry Ford, can you talk about his state of mind. What helped the most?

A: When I started the project I thought, “OK, well, I’m going to go and I’m just going to find some radio interviews with Henry Ford and maybe I’ll use them to tell the story of the movie. And then I found out that Henry Ford was terrified of speaking in public and there was hardly any recording of him. It quickly became a dead end. But then I read that he had this habit of keeping little notebooks in his back pocket which he called notebooks, where he wrote down his thoughts. These notebooks still exist and are kept in the archives of Benson Ford.

With their permission, I went to look at these notebooks. I think they’re probably the closest window you can imagine into Henry Ford’s mind, as everything that has ever been printed in his name has either been written by ghosts or heavily edited. But notebooks are kind of crude Henry Ford. On one page, it will be a bird watching list. And on the next page, it’s going to be, like, a horrible anti-Semitic statement. And then the next page will be the names of the square dance tunes he wanted to remember for his next dance. Then the next page will be that unions are the worst thing that ever happened to America. Reading this, I think, gave me some insight into his thinking.

Q: Ford’s treatment of his son Edsel, which extended to sabotaging his efforts as company president, seems to have tragic proportions. Is it almost a Shakespearean story?

A: Henry had all of these great intentions. He really wanted to make the world a better place, and in some ways he did. But in other ways, it made it a worse place. I think in part he was corrupted by all the power he had and all the attention he had. He had a very close relationship with his son when Edsel was a boy. Edsel idolized his father. He wanted Edsel to be his heir and continue his work, but Edsel was a very different person from Henry. It was not a carbon copy at all.

This led Edsel to disappoint his father’s expectations. Henry always wanted Edsel to be tough and ruthless. And Edsel was not. He was more democratic in terms of consensus building, getting input from many different people. He loved art. He loved jazz. He loved Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom Henry Ford hated. My own guess is that Henry Ford felt somewhat threatened by his son. Her son was fairly well educated. Henry was not. For some reason, he sabotaged Edsel. It’s a really sad story. It’s the human story of someone destroying the people they love. It is Shakespearean.

Q: Your role in the film includes writing, directing, editing, producing, and playing the saxophone for the music. Most filmmakers would never be able to juggle all of these roles. Is this something that you thrive on?

A: “First of all, I’m starting to get quite old. I am 61 years old. I did a lot of different things. I started in music. I worked in the theater. I started making films about twenty years ago. I try to make films on a budget that I can afford, where I don’t have to compromise. The only way for me to do this is to do a lot of the work myself. I work really cheap for me (laughs).

Question: The film does not defame Henry Ford. It portrays him, I think, as a broken man who could never overcome his flaws. Does this sound correct to you? What did you leave that feeling of experience about her?

A: Yes, I think it is correct. I don’t think he was a broken man early in his life. But by the end of his life, he had alienated most of his friends, his son, most of the people who worked with him. And it’s pretty sad. And also he had left this horrible legacy of anti-Semitism. But I admit there is a part of me that loves him, strange as it sounds, especially the previous Henry Ford. His creativity, his curiosity, his enthusiasm for things, his ingenuity. That’s why I feel like it’s tragic. Here is someone who had all these gifts, all these wonderful qualities and aspirations. For me his legacy is so marred by the most negative things he has done, it’s a very sad story.

Poster (designed by Amanda Dine) for "10 questions for Henry Ford" by filmmaker and University of Michigan Associate Professor Andy Kirshner.

Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at jhinds@freepress.com.

’10 questions with Henry Ford ‘

Available to stream online November 9-14

$ 8 ($ 6 students, seniors and military discounts)

Virtual screening tickets available through Ojai Film Festival on OjaiFilmFestival.com.


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