About the Film | The Red Tail


Meet the crew . . .
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The story...

“For all those families struggling with the disastrous effects of economic globalism, with a global system that does not speak to their concerns or address their fears, The Red Tail is your film. For those not victims of globalism, at least not yet, The Red Tail is your ticket to understand how your country is being shaped by forces beyond our political control. [The Red Tail] will make you not only smarter, but also more sensitive and compassionate.” - Huffington Post, Feb 25, 2010.

On August 19, 2005 Roy Koch, along with 4,400 airline mechanics, custodians, and cleaners, went on strike against Northwest Airlines, the fourth largest airline in the world. Northwest, otherwise known as “The Red Tail” by its employees, wanted to lay off 53% of their union and outsource their jobs. What followed was a 444-day strike that would end with 4,000 union members out of work, including Roy.

Instead of being left in the wake of this battle, Roy and his daughter Melissa (co-director of
The Red Tail with Dawn Mikkelson) set on a journey to meet the worker to whom Roy’s job was outsourced in China. The journey provides a renewed sense of purpose for Roy, and while Melissa wants to get answers to his plight, her determination as a filmmaker is always tempered by her love as a daughter. The film interweaves Roy and Melissa’s search for connection in China with the premeditated downfall of Northwest Airlines. This downfall serves a vibrant example of the dangers of our current economic system, and casts a spotlight on the future of the working class.

“These are the days that a programmer is besieged by documentaries that explain the financial crisis that our world has found itself in.
The Red Tail managed to illustrate the effect greed has against communities, families and a man’s dignity in such a wonderful manner, congratulations. – Felim, MacDermott, Galway Film Fleadh Program

The story behind The Red Tail...
In August of 2005 the mechanics at Northwest Airlines went on strike. Filmmaker and daughter of a striking mechanic, Melissa Koch, armed with a video camera, had unparalleled access to the human struggle of the mechanics during the early days of their strike and began shooting what was to become The Red Tail. Soon after, Beth Wilson (Associate Producer/Research), an NWA flight attendant, quit her job rather than cross the picket line. Disillusioned and inspired, Wilson went in search of a documentary filmmaker to tell the story of the workers of NWA. A story that was neglected by the mainstream media. This search lead her to award-winning filmmaker Dawn Mikkelson. Moved by this flight attendant’s passion and seeing the global implications of this story, Mikkelson began filmming. It didn’t take long for these two documentary teams to discover one another and join together as one. Since that time, the team has grown to include Chris Waller (Associate Producer/Writer), Lori Barbero (Music Supervisor), Adrian Danciu (Director of Photography), and Carly Zuckweiler (Sound Designer).

Adventures in international travel!
Crossing into China was an adventure that included hiding our gear in our luggage, traveling on tourist visas, crossing at the most busy land border in small groups, celebrating when no one was watching the metal detector monitor as the luggage went through, and surviving Chinese WalMarts, Olympic Torch Runs, and a major earthquake.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What airline did you fly on your trips to China?
The crew flew a combination of United, Sun Country, and China Air. Our major flights were primarily donated although a few were booked with the financial support of hundreds of individual donors.

Why didn’t you fly Northwest? We believed it was a conflict of interest to the story, as well as disrespectful of all the striking NWA mechanics, custodians, and cleaners.

Why didn’t you interview Northwest Airlines or its now former CEO, Doug Steenland? We tried, but were denied an interview. We were told that they were too busy with merger plans with Delta.

How did the merger of Northwest with Delta impact your film? This merger, although not final until our final weeks of post-production, falls perfectly into the trajectory of our story. As the story of the downfall of Northwest Airlines unfolds, it is clear that this merger was coming for a long time and that is what we were expecting. From the two airlines declaring bankruptcy on the same day, in the same court in Delaware (even though they were based in Minnesota and Georgia), to former NWA CEO Richard Anderson becoming the CEO of Delta, this merger is not a surprise to anyone in our crew. It also reinforces what many of our interview subjects were predicting, that eventually the US will be left with only a couple of major carriers, while the others disappear. It appears to be the way of this industry and so many others . . .

Why do you conceal the identities of the Chinese mechanics that you interviewed? This was a choice we made early on upon considering the history of Chinese workers in films by US documentary filmmakers. We did not wish to be the reason that one more Chinese worker “disappears”, never to be heard from again. This is a choice that was reinforced when we shot in China and experienced a small slice of life in a country that does not have freedom of the press or freedom of speech. Sure, we could have searched for a worker who had an axe to grind, who was willing to lose his or her life to share this story, but we were far more interested in speaking with the “average” Chinese airline mechanic.