Moosehead Breweries Ltd. workers in Saint John walk the picket line in a scene from the documentary, Drink 'em Dry. (CBC)

The lockout of Moosehead Breweries Ltd. workers in Saint John last year has been made into a documentary that will be making the rounds at international film festivals.

The 49-minute film called Drink 'em Dry was shot by worker, Sheldon Garland, and produced by the New Brunswick Union, which represents the workers.

It was screened at a private premiere at Harvard University in Boston last month.

In February 2011, 172 unionized workers at Moosehead were locked out for 38 days. It was a dispute about maintaining health benefits for retirees.

One of those locked out was Garland, a machine operator, who had come back to Saint John after graduating from film school in Vancouver.

He had a camera and an idea.

"We had about five different shifts of people who were out here walking the line at different times. And everybody was asking, ‘What's this guy doing on that shift and how are things on this shift and did anything happen,’" Garland said.

"So I figured I might as well use the camera and film the different shifts to show everyone that we're all on the same page kind of thing."

Garland edited together some vignettes and put them on the union's Facebook page. Then they were put on YouTube and went viral because the union had a new idea.

Instead of calling for a boycott of Moosehead beer, the union asked the public to drink up and drain the brewery's inventory.

"We are encouraging every New Brunswicker to drink our products so that we can get this over with as soon as possible," the movie says.

Plan forced company to negotiate

Tom Mann, executive director of the New Brunswick Union, said the plan worked.

"And when it became bone empty, the company had nothing else to do but say 'We've got to get back to the table,'"  he said.

Mann said Garland's video told a compelling story.

 It's not a typical labour story which is, you know, bullhorns and picket lines and rocking cars. This was building community support," Mann said.


Sheldon Garland shot the documentary about the Moosehead Breweries Ltd. lockout of workers. (CBC)

Garland said the documentary shows there are other ways to deal with a labour dispute.

"The knee-jerk reaction is, ‘Well, we're not getting what we want, so we're going to lock them out. Well,  they're not giving us what we want, so we're going to boycott them.’ You don't need to do that. Take a step back and think," Garland said.

There has also been a screening for the union members.

"The people that did show up had a lot of pride," said Garland. "A lot of people you could hear reminiscing. They said it brought back a lot of good memories, believe it or not.

"You know, the camaraderie and solidarity that was out on the picket line are just like you get when you're in the playoffs with a hockey team."

The documentary will soon be going to other international film festivals.

The union has also prepared a teacher's guide so lessons learned in the Moosehead lockout can be applied to other disputes.