Workers in the spotlight at 2005 Toronto International Film Festival

Workingman’s Death

Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger has created a monumental study of the worker in “Workingman’s Death.” His previous epic film, “Megacities,” now available on DVD, and his current film display a powerful knowledge of film production, working-class history and the human condition. The film is constructed in six parts, each one focusing on laborers in far-flung areas of the world. Starting in the Donbass, Ukraine, region he interviews workers who have entered a recently closed coal mine. At great risk they attempt to extract coal under the most extreme conditions in order to survive. Once a thriving area for industry, the region is neglected and all the mines have been shut down and forgotten. The film’s other chapters include stunning visuals of a steel town in China, ship “breakers” in Pakistan, and sulphur miners in Indonesia. The film, often-times graphic and disturbing, characterizes the shifting workforces of the world, and the grueling conditions workers are forced to endure.


American director Steven Soderbergh (“Erin Brockovich”), whose next film is an epic biography of Che Guevara, returns to a small town theme in “Bubble,” focusing on the workplace and the lives of people struggling to make ends meet. The film takes us on a journey into the dark post-9/11 period and the personal relationships between young workers in a doll factory.

China Blue

The young factory workers in “China Blue” are halfway around the world in south China, yet still feel the same capitalist production pressure as workers in “Bubble.” In this candid documentary, a 16-year-old girl works alongside her family 16 grueling hours a day and make about $16 a week. Western corporate exploitation of this pool of cheap labor is explored by director Micha Peled, who recently made “Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town.”

North Country

Now in DVD release, “North Country” received its world premiere at Toronto. Recreating the class action suit against sexual harassment in the workplace, the film follows the story of a young woman seeking employment at an iron mine in northern Minnesota. The star-studded production features actors Sissy Spacek, Frances McDormand and Charlize Theron. The brilliant cinematography of Chris Menges and the inspiring direction of Niki Caro provide hope for those struggling in the workplace for dignity and respect.

Angel and Little Athens

“Angel” is a social realist study by Jim McKay, reminiscent of the great British director Ken Loach. Angel, an inner city youth slipping between the cracks, is kicked out of his father’s house and taken in by Nicole, his school counselor, who happens to be pregnant but willing to save another kid. “Little Athens” focuses on disenchanted small town youth with dead-end jobs in the post-high school period. It is brilliantly constructed and fast-paced.

Pavee Lackeen

All the way from Ireland comes a fascinating study of the Travellers, mobile home dwellers who resist settling down in one place. “Pavee Lackeen” tells the story of 10-year-old Winnie who lives in poverty, in places without running water, jobs or school systems. The use of non-professional actors from the Travellers community lends credibility and reality, and the handheld photography is stunning.

We Feed the World

The Austrian documentary by Erwin Wagenhofer, “We Feed the World,” addresses the crisis in the food industry. Farmers, fishermen, and agricultural workers demonstrate the failings of the globalized food industry: wheat costs less than road salt; thousands of acres of the Amazon are being cleared to grow soybeans; water is being controlled and marketed for profit.