The Ark Of Lilburn
About the Film
This is a documentary, at its core, about a family trying to move their giant boat from land to the water. Not in itself a worthwhile watch, but director Nick DeKay seemed to find the only family in existence that could make such a mundane task worth of an hour-and-a-half long documentary. Such is the life in small-town Lilburn, GA.
It’s often said that it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey. That’s where THE ARK OF LILBURN shines. The process of figuring out how to move the enormous vessel from where it is berthed in the Porter Steel factory to Tampa, FL is a comedy of errors and poor judgement, starting from the boat’s inception. The decision to build the boat inside the factory rather than at a dockyard is what caused the initial problem of the chore of moving it.
The folks interviewed in the film try to portray the boat and Porter Steel as local legends, but it’s difficult to ascertain whether or not they’re just making things up for the camera. There’s a good stretch of the beginning of the film where they all are openly making fun of the entire process. One thing is for certain though, the boat’s presence was a nuisance to everybody who worked at the steel company, despite the fact that many of them had a hand in building it in the first place.
To build a boat with no prior experience is a mighty feat, and that they accomplished that feat with aplomb, while simultaneously giving the owner of the business a reason to get up in the morning and continue the drudgery of steel fabrication.
There’s definitely something relatable to that mentality, and the story overall is one of perseverance in a blue-collar industry that has been repeatedly hit hard time and again over the years as the economy has turned up and down.
The way the film was shot feels more akin to a pilot for a new HGTV or Discovery television show. It’s bog-standard docu-style. That’s necessarily a knock on it though. It’s an efficient and effective way to tell the story, but not always the most interesting.
There’s a good lesson buried in this film about fulfilling your dreams and keeping your word against huge odds. It’s buried deep though, and on top of that lesson are insurance minutiae, subcontractor issues, and logistics/physics layers that muddy the overall “triumph of the human spirit” that should dominate a story like this.
I don’t feel bad for the founder of Porter Steel, whose poor judgement and decisions led to the problem of the boat being stuck in the shop, I do feel bad for his son though, who is obviously trying to do something nice for his dad, while maybe also showing that he is worthy of the Porter Steel legacy.