Looking Back at 1982 Poletown Documentary

“Poletown Lives” tells the story of residents fighting to keep their neighborhood from being bulldozed for a GM plant that, in 2018, the company announced it has plans to close.

WDET/Laura Herberg

Thousands of journalists from around the world will be in Detroit next week for the North American International Auto Show. There will be dozens of vehicle unveilings and industry forecasts. But discussions about the fortunes of General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler aren’t new.

In November, General Motors announced it would be shutting down operations at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant. The neighborhood there, known as Poletown, was leveled to make way for the plant in the early 1980s. “Poletown Lives,” a documentary from that time, follows the residents in the area as they fight to keep their neighborhood alive.

The film was produced and directed by George L. Corsetti. WDET’s Laura Herberg sat down with him to talk about the film and its relevance today.

Click on the audio player above to hear that conversation.

Flier Courtesy of George Corsetti, Photo: Laura Herberg

“Poletown Lives” Today

The film, which is undergoing restoration work by Detroit artist and filmmaker Nicole MacDonald, was recently screened by the Detroit chapter of Democratic Socialists of America at the Wayne State University Law School Auditorium. The showing included a panel discussion with George Corsetti, U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and GM factory worker Sean Crawford.

An organizer with DDSA says the event inspired a protest planned for Friday, Jan. 18, at Cobo Center. That’s the evening of the NAIAS’ Charity Preview, a formal affair described on the auto show’s website as “one of the most exclusive, high profile events in the nation.”

An email being sent around to promote the protest says, “We are calling on GM to keep the plant open with the number of jobs they originally promised when they destroyed Poletown (6,500), and for the plant to be used for green manufacturing. Barring this, we’re calling on the City of Detroit to reclaim the plant using eminent domain, since the land for the plant was taken by eminent domain 37 years ago. We are also calling on the City of Detroit to hold public hearings regarding the GM plant closings.”

The Poletown Lives documentary will be screened tonight at 7 at the Moratorium Now office located at 5920 2nd Ave., Detroit, MI 48202. It’s free, but seating is limited.


  • Laura Herberg
    Laura Herberg is a Reporter for 101.9 WDET, telling the stories about people inhabiting the Detroit region and the issues that affect us here.