Party Poster

Really lovely, interesting and warm short film about a group of laundry workers getting together a poster celebrating the festival of Ganesh.

Now, when I say poster, I don’t mean a bit of A4 stuck up in the break room. I mean something the size of a barn door. One guy uses last year’s poster to waterproof one side of his house. These are beasts, man. And in India, posters are a very big deal. Rajesh, the main character in the documentary, says, “Without a poster, you don’t exist!” A poster is engagement with the social, religious, and political life of the community.

It might seem a little ridiculous, viewed from Glasgow, this obsession with getting the biggest poster with the most stuff jammed on it. Especially when it looks like it’s made in MS Paint, and has low-res mobile photos of the folk on it. But the aesthetic does draw you in, as the camera passes rows of them celebrating a politician’s birthday, it does become hypnotic. It reminds me of nothing so much as the way people go on about their Christmas lights over here.

There is a comedy element of watching the guys at the laundry bicker over the layout of the poster, suggesting endless changes as they peer at the latest draft on the mobile phone. Can you darken my sunglasses? Can you make my bindi bigger? Can you turn down the contrast so my hair doesn’t look thin? This year Covid has hit, so they stick an image containing safety advice in the corner too.

This is what I like in a short documentary, a feeling like I got to be somewhere, listening to someone talk about what is important to them. There’s a warm bond of friendship between Rajesh and the other laundry workers, and it felt nice to meet them all. With the medical and financial difficulties Covid is bringing, it’s good to see them still find a way to carry on their part in the life of their community.

Pride

Pride is the name of the University of Virginia’s Black Student Alliance’s newspaper. The short film is set back in the 1990s and depicts the student group getting together to discuss what to put out in their latest issue.

The topic is financial aid is brought up, how it’s not enough, how difficult it is to apply for, how unhelpful the whole service is. The students laugh at the possibility of such an article putting their own funding in jeopardy, since they are so routinely ignored it’s unlikely anyone in authority will read it. The conversation, set 30 years ago, is as relevant as ever today.

You see the writer typing up the story on a typewriter, then the copies being printed off on a rotary press. It looks so antiquated now, it might as well have been chiselled tablets.

An interesting look at the long tradition of protest and citizen journalism that feeds into today’s world.

Neon Phantom

Marrying documentary and musical, Neon Phantom looks at the lives and struggles of delivery workers in Brazil.

The film combines a lot of different styles, there are scripted drama skits, first hand narratives of real experiences, song and dance numbers about their frustrations. It’s an interesting choice. It gives a number of different ways for the workers to express themselves, but that has to be balanced against making sure it’s not just a big jumble.

Like I just got done saying in my In My Network review, the gig economy has basically taken workers’ rights back to square one. With no sick pay, you effectively have people working through a plague, delivering food. Folk talk about having to work even when positive for Covid, because it’s that or starve.

Many people work hungry, because they can’t afford to delay their deliveries by stopping to eat. All day they’re out on a bike delivering food to folk at home, smelling their tea, while hungry.

And if you’re driving hungry and tired, there’s always the chance you’ll make a mistake or get in an accident. People feel like, if they were hit by a car tomorrow, only thing to happen would be folk would complain their meal is late.

But not only is there no imminent solution, it feels like it’s not even discussed as a problem. All the way through the pandemic, there’s been ribbons, signs, rounds of applause. But when it actually comes time to give workers paid sick leave, paid lunch hours and safety protections, SILENCE. As more and more people are being pushed out of employment, or having to pick up second jobs because of poverty wages, delivery workers are becoming more ubiquitous, but even dressed in neon biker’s shirts, they and their struggles remain invisible.

You’d think that musical and documentary wouldn’t fit, but what can you do when you hear all of that but scream out in song? An interesting way of presenting an overlooked issue.

Bestia

Horrific animated short film from Chile, which makes more sense if you know who Ingrid Olderock was. Be warned there are some deeply disturbing images in this, all the worse now I know they are based on a true story.

Bestia starts by showing us the mundane life of a pudgy middle-aged woman. She bakes cakes, takes her dog for a walk, frets about her weight, the usual. Until a series of malevolent images begin to impinge on her world. She dreams of beheading her dog, sees faceless figures stalking her, and her stops to a high-gated home become more frequent.

The revolting truth is she is a member of Chile’s secret police, and she is taking her dog every day to a secret holding site to rape the tortured women imprisoned there. As I say, this is based on the real crimes of Ingrid Olderock, also known as The Woman of the Dogs. She was German-Chilean, her family had been Nazi sympathisers way back, and she worked to uphold the conservative military dictatorship of Pinochet.

You’ll be glad to know she was shot, but not as any punishment for her crimes. Like many absolute monsters, she escaped all criminal prosecution. She was shot in the head by a leftist, although she maintained it was a set-up by her own side, after she left the service. And unfortunately the bullet didn’t kill her, she lived right up until 2001.

Throughout Bestia, we see the main character slowly losing her mind. The knife on her kitchen table spins. In place of baked cakes, in her oven she sees a gun. She is haunted by the figures of her victims. It might be the only justice we get.

With no dialogue, Bestia still manages to be a gut punch of a film. Made me sick to my stomach.

In My Network

In My Network asks the question, what the fuck even is work anymore?

We open and close with a janny coming in to clean. He narrates his own view on social media, one common among the older generation, that he has little to do with it, that he has a Facebook profile to keep in touch with folk some distance away, but has no great attachment to it. He sees the benefit and convenience of being able to buy and sell stuff online, keep up-to-date with what is happening, and make friends, but laments the multiple negative ways in which it is impacting young people.

The film then moves to show various influencers making their content, providing narration of their own experiences. They are singers, makeup reviewers, good vibes cheerleaders, and chat show hosts for other internet personalities, but you’re left asking the question, what even is work?

Now, I’m from the bridging generation, the internet became a thing when I was a teenager, but social media didn’t really take off until I was out of uni. I’m not quite the age of the janny, but I’m older than the influencers. And the changes I’ve seen occur in my lifetime are wild. If I’d gone to the careers officer at school and said I wanted to unbox things for a living, she would have assumed I meant stacking shelves. I still cannot explain the financial model of Twitch, and watching me explain it to my parents is like watching the blind lead the blind. “So, yeah, you play video games and let other people watch and they give you money.” “Why?” “I . . . don’t . . . know.”

As much as we get stuck on the absurdity and hilarity of emerging labour forms, it’s really important to look at this in the context of work. Young people are coming to the job market after living through one of the deepest, longest depressions the world has ever seen. Someone in their teens has never known stability, only the collapse of long-thought-impervious industries, like the banking sector. We have passed the movement of labour from physical industry sectors to the service industry, and are now watching a movement away from the physical of any sort, to an entirely online economy. And what’s being exchanged is becoming more and more intangible.

But the work is real. The time and labour sunk into preparing, making, promoting and distributing the content of influencers is substantial. Beyond the half-hour of a YouTube show or few seconds of an Instagram reel is hours and hours of work, cultivating an audience, building networks, learning to navigate the algorithm. While influencers, and the teens who want to become them, are constantly touted as lazy, wanting to earn millions by sitting around in the house, taking pictures of themselves, for moments’ worth of work, this narrative is a classic attempt to fracture workers’ solidarity.

Far from easy, the work is continuous, as the internet is open 24/7. The toll it takes on some content-providers who struggle to set boundaries on their hours and energy is obvious. Plus, there is no guaranteed remuneration, so you are effectively self-employed, launching a new business and giving out free samples of your product, without ever knowing that you will eventually break even or start earning. That may seem like a huge gamble, but many see it as the only marketplace with the possibility for advancement.

Plus, as an influencer, there is no sick pay, no annual leave, no pension, no nothing. In the dominant social narrative of boomers having done all the real work, and everyone who’s come after being workshy and entitled, there is a deliberate eclipse of the fact that workers’ rights have went backward in time. In the online gig economy, there is absolutely no security, no entitlement to benefits, no hourly rate. And young people aren’t choosing it because it’s easy, they’re choosing it because it seems like the only option.

As the film shows us the various influencers, a recurring motif is the use of deception to keep the content on brand. When the makeup reviewer drops a compact, she refills it with flour before continuing. On the chat show, two internet personalities hint at a possible relationship, which neither of them are remotely interested in. And to be honest, that’s part and parcel of work, selling the sizzle rather than the sausage. But what does that mean if you are your own product, and your workplace is your life?

At the end, we pull back, seeing all the influencers are together in one stage, and the janny comes in to buff the floor. He’s in his uniform, they’re in the dress of their online persona. But he puts on his uniform at a set time and takes it off, goes back to his life. What about the young people? How do they clock off?