“See, there’s your job and there’s work. I would say your job is what you do to support yourself and your family; it may be something you like or not. Your workyour real workis something you crave doing. So if your job is you work at a restaurant, but your work is you play the piano, then that’s your real work: to become a good piano player.” Steven Bognar
The last few years have been shadowed by hard economic times. All of us know people who have lost jobs; some have even lost work. And in a society where we are so identified with what we do, the loss of either can be a huge hit on not only our finances, but our sense of self. Thus, it’s fitting that this year, Full Frame’s curated program of films focuses on work and how it shapes, claims and defines us.
The program includes 18 filmsnot all documentary, by the waycurated by filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. These filmmakers bring their own film to the fest, too: Their most recent effort, the 40-minute-long The Last Truck, follows the closing of GM’s assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio. And though the film is not part of their labor series, it bears witness to how close the bond is between self and service.
“I was surprised by the pride [the autoworkers] felt in their work,” says Reichert. “[It] broke a myth for me, that factory workers just put in their time and go home. It may be a deadbeat job, but they’re very proud of what they do,” she says.
In making their selections for the series, Reichert says they looked for films that showed actual work being done as well as a connection between the workers’ jobs and their lives. There was also a third consideration that influenced their choices.
“We asked ourselves the question, ‘What has impacted workor laborthe most in the last 100 years?’” says Bognar. “And we came up with two answers: One was the labor movement and the other was globalization.
“So we have tracks of our curating that include labor films and also tracks that try to ask the question, ‘How is globalization impacting human beings around the world’?”
Cue John and Jane for a response to the latter question. The film documents call center employees in Mumbai, India, who adopt Western names and affect American accents to converse with their English-speaking customers in America. While some bristle at taking on an Americanized identity, (“I’m getting to be tamed,” says one employee, “You know, ‘Sit boy.’ It disgusts me.”) others are clearly taken with the American dream (“I don’t want to be an Indian anymore,” says another ).
“I think the workers in India are probably not aware of how much the American dream doesn’t exist anymore,” says Reichert. “Or is being taken away from the average person who aspired to it, who really built the country through their work in all kinds of manufacturing services employment.
“[These Americans] sort of had a sense of the American dream: If you work hard, if you play by the rules, if you are diligent and hardworking, you can have a houseyou can have a nice houseyou can have a car, your kids can go to college, you can have vacations. That’s the American dream, and all those autoworkers had that. They don’t have it anymore. And I think the John and Jane folks who loved their jobs, who really aspired to being American, to me, it was very sad and ironic that they didn’t seem to realize how much that [dream] is decaying or crumbling here in the United States. And it’s partly crumbling because of what they do. It’s partly crumbling because so many of these jobs that were decent-paying jobs are going elsewhere.”
What happens, then, to one’s psyche, in a society where work is so tied to one’s being? According to Miriam Feliu, a professor in the psychiatry department at Duke University, the dislocation can be severe, given that this country has traditionally been accustomed to boundless economic opportunity. “Typically, the United States has been [viewed as] the ‘first country,’ in the sense that it’s the strongestthe economically strongest,” Feliu says.
“I think that [outsourcing] resources to other countries has placed us in a situation where we don’t feel as strong as we thought we were,” she says. “And also there’s a sense of betrayal in that these companies are taking this work outside [America] because it’s cheaper. So I think it impacts the identity and self-esteem of Americans in general.”
This, again, is where the story begins: who we are, in relation to what we do. “See, there’s your job and there’s work,” says Bognar. “I would say a job is what you do to support yourself and your family. It may be something you like, or not. Your workyour real workis something you crave doing.”
In most post-industrialized societies, we’ve long learned to engage in the language of capitalism, of individuality, of competition. But for many, the work that satisfies is still that which allows us to express our identities while connecting toand identifying withothers. Bognar and Reichert address this point in their essay, “Films on Work and Labor,” which appears in the Full Frame Program guide.
“We learned from making The Last Truck how much work means,” they write. “It’s so much more than a paycheck. Work structures our lives. It gives us security and community. It offers us pride, and the belief that we are helping the next generation of our family. In a very real way, jobs are the glue that keeps families and communities together.”
For more information on Bognar and Reichert’s curated film series, visit www.fullframefest.org.