Filmmaker on the moving Walmart party after storms destroyed stores

Written by By Eileen O’Grady, CNN In 2015, Walmart customers in America’s heartland suffered through a bit of a power outage: Five of the retailer’s stores lost power for several hours, destroying generators and…

Filmmaker on the moving Walmart party after storms destroyed stores

Written by By Eileen O’Grady, CNN

In 2015, Walmart customers in America’s heartland suffered through a bit of a power outage: Five of the retailer’s stores lost power for several hours, destroying generators and forcing a swift evacuation. The one thing that never faltered? The beautiful rainbow-colored sashaying parading customers who lined up outside the stores waiting to pounce on the remaining food on offer.

“We had really beautiful customers that were so happy to see the light again and the wet fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Veronica Jones, chief store officer of Walmart Western America.

The Walmart stores hit by outages in 2015. Credit: Alex Emslie, Walmart

The powerful customer emotion was the furthest thing from Jones’ mind at the time. In fact, the tragedy started in her office at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Jones and her team were supposed to be hosting a presentation for about 1,000 middle-level managers from several western states. Instead, they were bused down to pick up their phones and get the bad news that five Walmart stores were shut down by power outages. They had lost everything and had to begin counting what they could salvage and regroup.

Jones listened to their phone calls, listened to the frightened stories and then actually moved out of her office and into the store. “They were hearing people’s stories of the community and of their family members, just finding their sense of what was important and what they needed most,” Jones said.

When asked why, Jones responded, “They were just magnificent. They were just so grateful. They just wanted to save food. They wanted to save someone’s life.”

A meeting of 99 middle-level managers in Arkansas was met with devastation.

Conversations, Emotions, and Happiness, a documentary about the great Walmart celebration of customer enthusiasm after these power outages, premieres Sunday on American TV network CNN. CNN Worldwide’s chief financial officer and president of sales, Christa Robinson, and Johnson Publishing CEO and CNN’s business editor, David Chiu, also sit on the film’s advisory panel, and are interviewed for the film.

Produced by director Morgan Spurlock and his production company, Warrior Poets, the documentary chronicles the lives of seven people who work for Walmart in such stores as Archer Farms, Goodwill, and Kroger, throughout the Great Deluge of 2015.

Emotional, funny, and overwhelming, “everyday is frightening” features eerily stoic young men named Brian, Zach, Rhys, Raymond, and Randy. These employees are cool in the face of their fears. They are doing their jobs. They take the heat and deal with the kind of psychological pressure that makes even veterans of the Army and Marines cringe. The emotions in the film go as far to the extreme as a trucker losing his mind at a closed store, or a chief manager of a Walmart in Colorado upset by the lack of social interaction between employees.

“They are just remarkable people. They have a whole different perspective on life, seeing what their lives are about before they found Walmart,” Spurlock said.

Graceful and absolutely fearless, the employees in the film’s telling, are a mini-Berliners. German bakeries are the quintessential food outlets of Germany. In the movie, Brian offers some culinary insights into the culture. He says, “When we need to converse, we don’t just talk to each other with our mouths. We talk across all the boxes and bodies, which is what it takes to keep us going all the time.”

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