‘Workers’ is probably the most ambitious and exciting project I’ve ever worked on. It has motivated me both politically and as a filmmaker and, has really tested me to boot. You can see the films here, as one whole film or as a series of individuals.
’Workers’ forms part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Creative Interruptions project, led by Brunel University and covers ten individual, personal and sometimes moving accounts of warehouse and food factory work. The stories reveal some of the harsh working employment conditions in contemporary capitalist workplaces and the power inequalities inherent in them.
This was my first time working on a project within a university research setting and was honoured to work with Ben Rogaly, the researcher on the project and geography lecturer at the University of Sussex. We worked extremely closely together over a year and I’m proud to now be able to call him a friend. As I said, this project took a year and that’s something I’m not used to happening. Quite often I’m asked to film something and have it out in the following week so to have so much time to spend over this was weird for me. I didn’t know what to do with it at first…
What it did afford me was the ability to spend time with the narrators. I firmly believe that you need to build up a relationship with someone before you can just stick them in front of a camera and get them to talk, especially when they’re not used to it. A typical day with one of the narrators would start with a cuppa and a chat for about an hour. They welcomed me into their homes, sometimes feed me and we got to know each other. This could not be replicated in a normal commission scenario and as a result would be lacking in the depth that we see in these stories. We’d then sit and talk for an hour or so, with a camera rolling and talk about they’re working and creative lives. I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent those days with those individuals (one of whom I used to drunkly order cheesy chips in naan from many moons ago).
Then it was my job to provide the supporting visuals. I had a little help from my then intern Kat Cashman who’s work you can see in two of the films. However, my initial concern was ‘what do I show here?’ Considering these are supposed to be creative, arthouse films what do I as a filmmaker want to do. I experimented somewhat, most of those paid off! You’ll never believe the amount of times one can pour milk into a bowl and how many different ways that can be done! I managed to get myself into factories and convince friends to drive me around Peterborough at night to get the footage that was needed. It was an enormous pleasure to look at the beauty of some of the most everyday things and hope to god that I wasn’t being too boring with it.
I hope the resulting films start a conversation. Neither Ben nor I wanted to provide answers in a documentary sense. What’s most significant for me with this set of films is that by talking to people about what makes them tick, along with some of the difficult working conditions they’ve been subject to, it really makes the problems we’re covering real. It gives it a human face. We shouldn’t need a human face, we should be able to understand that people are exploited on a daily basis and want to fight for those people but we don’t. ‘Workers’ shows you those people, and makes you want to do something…
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