Body of Work, work and labour through cinema | Doclisboa’20

Under the title BODY OF WORK, this new programme includes films from filmmakers such as Harun Farocki, Carole Roussopoulos, Elisa Cepedal and Jonas Heldt. It is a cinematic proposition that promises to pose important questions and stimulate debate on work and labour – a central thematic in our lives.

BODY OF WORK is a programme that arises from a partnership between Doclisboa and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), which aims to offer a platform for dialogue, through cinema, of human rights and social issues related to contemporary working conditions and practices – a key arena within our society.

The HWFA – Healthy Workplaces Film Award, created 11 years ago, for best work-related documentary film, will be presented within the Doclisboa festival starting from this year. For this award, a selection of ten films featuring contemporary portraits of labour will be screened at Cinema São Jorge, Lisbon, during the first moment of the festival – 22 October to 1 November.

At the same time, and as a complement to this contemporary programme, a set of films will be presented at DAFilms.com online platform including a historical mapping of the evolution of the presence of work in our lives during the last century and its cinematographic representations. Our aim is to establish new bridges between past and present through a diverse proposal of incisive and poetic cinematographic objects and representations of labour. This programme will also be part of the first moment of Doclisboa, from October 22 and November 3.

The films of the contemporary selection and those of the historical retrospective offer a web of connections and conversations. At the beginning of cinema, the Lumière brothers started by filming the departure of workers from a factory, an idea that Harun Farocki, a century later, proposed to explore in Workers Leaving The Factory, through a subtle look at the lives of workers inside and outside their field of labour. Jonas Heldt, in his turn, returns to the factory to provide us with a contemporary perspective, 25 years later, in Automotive, where we meet two Audi employees, who, despite great differences in their roles, are both representative of a generation for whom work is no longer a certainty nor a factor of identity.

The mining town of Barredos in the Asturias region, portrayed in Elisa Cepedal‘s Work or to Whom Does the World Belong, was for years involved in strikes and struggles for workers’ rights, and now finds itself grappling with a progressive deindustrialization that is slowly transforming this town into a moribund one. A parallel disappointment is expressed on the face of a female worker at the Wonder factory in Saint Ouen, captured by Hervé Le Roux in Reprise, as she refuses to return to the darkness of routine, after the promises made during May ‘68 for a social change she has yet to encounter.

Social transformations are also illuminated in Merry Christmas, Yiwu, in which Mladen Kovačević explores the growing paradox of the Chinese city of Yiwu, where 600 factories dedicated to the production of Christmas ornaments are located. Beneath the tinsel and lights workers dream of a more luxurious life, increasingly distant from the communist ideal.

Over the past few decades, we have seen profound changes in the world of labour that have shaped our society, in which unemployment, precariousness and liberalization have both dominated and forged new landscapes. In Lee Anne Schmitt’s California Company Town, we cross an extensive terrain of Californian landscapes that have been abandoned by the industries that created them. Across, and beneath, the ocean, salt miners and scientific researchers working side by side at the edge of the biosphere, in the depths of North Yorkshire, are subject to observation by Federico Barni and Alberto Allica in the short film Under the North Sea. Meanwhile Jeong-keun Kim goes Underground, far from the commotion of the city, to explore the facilities of the South Korean metro, leading the camera alongside the protagonists of this subterranean world, as it’s labour force travels towards uncertainty.

In Scenes in an Atelier, by Madelaine Merino, a workshop for painting restoration provides the backdrop for three young interns who, while working, discuss subjects such as art, friendship, family, and naturally work itself. In The Kiosk, Alexandra Pianelli accompanies, from the counter of her mother’s newspaper kiosk, an innocent game of complicit exchanges with the shop’s diverse customers. But through the same window we also witness global developments and the current crisis facing the press industry. 

Technological and economic crisis is also visible in Rules of the Assembly Line, at High Speed, filmed in a small town in Western Germany, where one of the largest slaughterhouses in the country is located. The daily lives of the community and the precarious conditions immigrants from Eastern Europe have to endure contrast with images of high school students who study an old text, “Saint Joan of the Stockyards” by Bertolt Brecht, while reflecting on German capitalism today. Present day economic fragility is also the contemporary common ground for a Kansas farmer, a laid off Ohio factory worker and an Uber driver in Florida. But even so, the three protagonists of Sarah Colt‘s The Disrupted refuse to be shaken. On the contrary, as America’s economy quakes, these three faces display their resilience.

If we talk about work and social rights, we also undoubtedly have to talk about the working role of women, the subject of cinematographic representation by so many filmmakers. Take for example La Mami, in which Laura Herrero Garvin gets inside the dressing room of a busy nightclub in Mexico City, where the matriarchal Mami manages a group of exotic dancers, offering them a safe space as they seek their fortune. This is a portrait of a community of women who, with steady hands, dictate the house rules. Yet, the director’s discreet gaze is full of nuance, leaving some doubt in the air as to who is actually in control.

On October 28, from 3 pm to 4.30 pm (UTC +0), Doclisboa, in partnership with EU-OSHA, will also hold Thinking Labour Practices Through Film, a discussion on the relationship between cinema, work and its cinematographic representations that will take place online in order to include participants from different contexts and territories.

Find more informations on the programme here.