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Man's Documentary ‘Made in the USA'

By MIKE RUBEN ∙ mruben@statejournal.com

America has citizens who are willing to die for their country, but are we willing to buy for it? 

That question is posed by Josh Miller of Ravenswood in the documentary "Made in the USA: The 30 Day Journey." Appropriately made by USA Films LLC, the 93-minute documentary is available on DVD. The public premiere was July 4 at the Alpine, a 122-seat historic theater in Ripley.

Miller, 28, does not possess a formal background in film but says it has become his passion. His full-time job is in records management with state government. 

A film buff from childhood, Miller says he came up with the "Made in the USA" concept after witnessing the impact of Century Aluminum's 2009 shutdown. Citing the low return on the high cost of making aluminum, the smelter closed its doors in 2009, putting 650 employees out of work.

The closure hit home for Miller, whose father-in-law lost his job at Century, and his hometown of 4,000 was devastated. There has been talk of a restart, but management has cited the high cost of energy needed to run the plant as a major sticking point.

"Ravenswood really took a hit when Century shut down," said Miller, who has a graduate degree in psychology from West Virginia State University. "When those jobs left the area, it devastated the community. It's just not the same. The community is going to continue to struggle until it opens back up."

Although aluminum was once a predominantly American manufactured product, it now is made globally in places such as India and China. Century operates a large smelter in Iceland.

Miller successfully pitched his documentary concept to contacts in the independent film industry. Overcoming scheduling, financing and other challenges, he took off with a four-man production crew on his "30 Day Journey" to locales from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. 

Along the way, he interviewed economists, business owners, historians and factory workers in the heart and soul of America. One such destination was Liberty, S.C., where a denim factory had closed. 

"It gave me a gut-wrenching feeling about what happened in Ravenswood," he admitted. "It's happening in small towns around the country."

Miller said his project has been about more than just making a film. He hopes it will influence people to look at product labels, buy American and maybe even start a local business.

"The whole idea of living off made-in-America products was an interesting hook, but it evolved into something much more than that," he said. "It's about the American dream, jobs and prosperity. The ultimate goal was to raise awareness of what's happening to our country."

He says the United States has been transforming from manufacturing to a service sector economy. 

"That's not a bad thing, per se, but I still think we need to go with what has worked in the past," said Miller, who had a brief career in professional baseball. "A strong manufacturing base is really what made America the powerhouse that it is. Creating things and innovating will return prosperity to America."

Regardless of political beliefs, Miller says people are tired of watching jobs leave the country. For that reason, he is proud to serve as a leading voice of what has become a "Made in America" movement.

"It's for your future, your children's future and your children's children future," he said. "I don't want to see our future generation being orphaned by the American dream. The future of this country really depends on us and the decisions that we make. 

"I know that times are tough but America can always achieve the impossible. It's what we do and have done for generations. We're creators, we're hard workers and we're innovators."