This documentary is beautiful and very heartwarming, and I deeply appreciate the sentiments of the movie. This movie impressively combines two seemingly incompatible things: trash and dance. These, oddly, happen to be two of my interests, so watching this movie was a no-brainer for me. For anyone who cannot believe how those two things can go together, or how this movie could be heartwarming, I hope to convince you that this movie is definitely worth watching. The artistic visions of both the director of the film and the choreographer of the dance piece were very impressive. In short, the choreographer is able to appreciate a beauty in the routine movements of collecting trash and, more importantly, spread her appreciation of the work of invisible laborers.
In this movie, the choreographer shadows trash and recycling workers in Austin, Texas for a year and designs a dance piece using the motions of the workers and their vehicles. The choreographer—as a Caucasian woman working in the arts—is definitely looked on suspiciously as an outsider when she enters a workforce that is primarily black and Hispanic men. You can see the cynicism and disinterest of the workers at first, but slowly the workers warm up to her and her vision. To the workers’ surprise, the choreographer learns about all the different departments and incorporates the unique aspects of each in the dance piece. Her genuine interest in their jobs and them as individuals is able to convince them to spend extra time for rehearsals for the dance piece. The choreographer also calls upon the unique talents of individuals (breakdancing, harmonica, rapping, etc.), making the dance for the workers, not just for herself. It means a lot to be appreciated for the hard work you do every day, as well as for the parts outside of work that you are proud of, and the viewers can see how excited the workers are to be seen as individuals. It is wonderful seeing the light and excitement in the eyes of these underappreciated workers when they talk about how it felt to perform in front of their families and thousands of other people.
This movie also highlights the out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality regarding trash our society has. People view trash as gross and to be avoided. Trash collectors are looked down upon by many because their work is thought to be dirty, mindless, dead-end work, but trash collectors are actually doing tough physical labor—often at odd hours and with stuff most people don’t want to go near—and our society relies on these workers to keep our streets and homes clean. I have often heard people use jobs such as trash collectors, janitors, or burger flippers as the ultimate failure to achieve the glamorous American Dream. It is dangerous to equate these “bottom-rung” jobs to failure, though, as it can make us falsely believe that these people—these real people working these jobs—are lazy or uneducated. Through this movie, we are reminded how incredibly hardworking these people are. Many of them work two or more jobs just to make ends meet and support their children. The most heartbreaking moment in the movie is when a father says that his little girl loves to see his trash truck because it is so big, but he knows that someday she’ll be embarrassed by it and its smells once she understands the place trash holds in society. This hardworking father should not be made to feel embarrassed about his work. Instead, we should be thankful whenever others do important work that we wouldn’t want to do—whether that be fighting fires, performing surgeries, or picking up trash.
Through the dance piece, there is an appreciation for the anonymous blue collar workers that keep our society running, as well as a beauty given to a profession that is looked upon with disdain and disgust. The choreographer says her main intention of this project and her dance piece is to make people feel a connection with the people around them that may cross paths with but never know. Thousands of people showed up in the rain to watch this show live, and I think they left with that feeling. The director of the movie also deserves recognition for being able to capture the charming personalities of the different workers. I could not help but be drawn into their stories.
I think the sentiments of this movie are particularly relevant today in the United States where there is a huge disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and extremely hard-working people can stay stuck in poverty. I also think we can’t continue avoiding the trash we are producing by having poorer people deal with it. Personally, it is hard for me to speak of these things without some anger. The truly great thing about this genuine and artistic documentary, though, is that it is not angry or heavy-handed. Instead, this movie touches on these ideas by simply giving life to ordinary people you might not initially find relatable.