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Mark Street’s engaging and timely documentary Work Songs opens the New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, January 25


By Al Nigrin

originally published: 01/20/2020

Mark Street’s engaging and timely documentary Work Songs opens the New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, January 25

Mark Street’s engaging and timely documentary Work Songs opens the New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, January 25, 2020!

Here is the interview I had with Work Songs director Mark Street:

Nigrin: Your highly engaging documentary Work Songs eloquently explores how workers in a range of industries attempt to find meaning in their jobs.  Please tell us more about how you got involved in making this film? 

Street: I've always been interested in work as subject.  "Fulton Fulton Market" explores this urban fish market in it's waning days; "Lima Limpia" looks at Peruvian street sweepers "Happy?" interviews passersby (mostly workers) asking them is they are happy.  "Morning, Noon, Night; Water, Land and Sky" was made at a residency at the Brooklyn Navy Yard a modern industry park.  For this film I took a cue from Studs Terkel's 70s masterpiece "Working."  I wanted to let people tell their stories about how their work animated or complicated their lives.  I just tried to be open in the process, listening, letting people hit upon anecdotes that were revealing and spoke to larger trends like automization, the decline of labor unions and a gradual de humanizing of labor.

Nigrin: How long did it take you to make this film?



 
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Street: About four years total.  I started shooting in Pittsburgh because I thought the automatic vehicle industry was exemplary of a few trends; increasing reliance on technology (and white collar jobs) as well as a reliance on private industry (Uber in that case) to serve public industry (the city of Pittsburgh). In that case you have Carnegie Mellon refining the tech, Uber implementing it and city officials gracing it with tax credits and the like because they think it serves the public good.  The truth is more complicated of course.

Nigrin: How did you decide who to interview?

Street: I tried to keep a balance between blue and white collar jobs, tech, service and manual labor.  I interviewed a few experts speaking in broad macrocosmic terms but cut them in favor of anecdotal stories about direct experience.  I tried to be diverse in terms of geography, gender, race etc etc. I kept the interviews in the film that were interesting and where the speaker was self aware but not too self aware!  You want the viewer to draw larger conclusions not have interview subjects tie it up for them in a neat package.  Some people I interviewed were inarticulate and some I interviewed were too articulate!  I wanted people to fit into the larger context of the film and talk about their own experience not larger trends and tendencies.

Nigrin: Were a lot of these interviews spontaneous or pre planned?

Street: Some I prepared for, even traveled across the country for.  Others I stumbled upon.  I was sipping a whiskey at Jimmy's Corner (great place; a boxing bar; last authentic place in Times Square) before seeing Richard Thompson at Town Hall and I struck up a conversation with the bartender.  "She's got a whole life outside of this beer she's pouring" I remember thinking.  Indeed she did and does and was willing to sit with me one afternoon and talk.  I liked the mix of prepared questions, off the cuff ones, sit downs, street interviews all juxtaposed.  The process of making the film was just one of keeping my eyes open as I moved through the world and imagining who might have something to say.  I hope for the audience to be activated in this way after watching the film as well.  We walk past workers every day; it behooves us to think about their subjective experience a bit, I think.

Nigrin: I thought some of the various worker interviews like the farmer from Virginia and the paint mixer in the shirt factory could be developed into longer films. Is that something you plan to do?

Street: Pittsburgh I shot first, and I think at one point I had a 40 minute cut of that section.  I went pretty in depth into it; including the psychology of people's fear of being in automatic cars.  (People resist instinctually, but statistically...... it's safer than many many other things they do every day).  I thought about staying there; but ultimately the peripatetic nature of the film as it is won out.  I've long been animated by street photography and the flaneur, and this film has a sort of wanderlust to it that I chose to underline.



 
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Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to our readers?

Street: I put out an ad on Craig's List (my first and last) and made contact with Cristina in West New York, New Jersey who is a full time participant in the sharing economy (Air B nB, selling on Etsy, medical billing she does from her home).  She told me all these unsettling stories about AirBnB and Craig's List (where she sells things she's bought on another site). Weird guests doing  Voodo rituals in her apartment.  A guy who came over to buy a coffee machine who clearly didn't have interest in purchasing it; just conversation with her.  Finally I said "Well why did you trust me to come over to your house and interview you?"   "Oh, trust me, I told a friend to call me a few minutes after you got here and if I didn't answer to call the police"  She was the only one I paid to be in the film; it seemed fitting as part of the new directly transactional economy.

Mark Street’s engaging and timely documentary Work Songs opens the New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, January 25

Work Songs will be preceded by the beautiful short experimental film Textile Workers by Andrea Nappi and Juno Roome. Here is more information on this screening:

Textile Workers Andrea Nappi and Juno Roome  (Queens, New York)  In this captivating experimental film, a wayward man, led by a scarlet fairy, is transported to a fantastical land. 2019; 8 min. Q+A Session with Directors Andrea Nappi and Juno Roome!

Work Songs – Mark Street (Brooklyn, New York)   Combining interviews with observational footage, Work Songs is a highly engaging documentary that eloquently explores how workers in a range of industries attempt to find meaning in their jobs.  Director Mark Street dives into the gig economy, automatization, and the decreasing power of unions, and then leavens this bleak picture with finely observed evocations of work places. 2019; 68 min. Q+A Session with Director Mark Street!

Co-sponsored by the Rutgers University Cinema Studies Program!

Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 7:00 PM
 in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey



$14= Advance; $12=General; $10=Students+Seniors

Information: (848) 932-8482;
www.njfilmfest.com



Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.

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