Shoe shiners: at the airport, a busy subway station, a kiosk in your local mall, even on the street corner. There they are, every day, providing a service to the people walking by. Yet this humble profession is often overlooked. Who goes into shoe shining, and why? Director Stacey Tenenbaum gives us the answers by putting us in the shoes of shiners around the world.
Filming in cities as diverse as New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sarajevo, La Paz, and more, Shiners gives a good sense of the universality of pride in one’s work. However, it is also clear that the profession is not viewed the same from one country to the next. In America it is being reclaimed by hipsters who deride the neglect of older crafts. In Japan we see a lot of honour in the skill, in making something old new again. But in other places, it’s seen as degrading work, and the shiners work on the street, earning little money and even less respect.
In that way, Tenebaum quietly addresses poverty and social justice without quite mentioning it directly. One shiner, a mother of young children, barely earns enough to feed her family; she refuses to be shamed for her position but insists that her children will be ‘professionals.’
Don, a.k.a. the shoe dude, working a street corner in Manhattan, has a vibrant personality. A former accountant and pastry chef, he’s chosen shoe shining for the sense of freedom it gives him. He talks candidly about the racist connotations of shoe shining, and the satisfaction he’s derived from telling “uppity people” their shoes are dirty.
Shiners excels at providing an insider’s view. It cracks the humanity wide open, and guarantees that you’ll never walk by these people without seeing them again.
Saturday, April 29, 7:30 PM, Isabel Bader
Sunday, April 30, 1:00 PM, Hart House
Thursday, May 4, 9:30 PM, Hart House
Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.
I thought it was interesting that you said you now notice the shoe shiners in almost every movie we watch. Maybe I’ll notice more in real life now too, but they seem much less common than in film (though that may be a byproduct of our cold climate – I doubt many would want to set up shop on our streets).
Sean – you do have shoe shiners in Toronto. The people from Penny Loafers will be shining shoes at the April 29 premiere of Shiners. They have 3 locations in TO! Plus Walter’s shoe shine does an awesome job in the airport. Once you start thinking about shoe shiners you will begin to notice them when you pass by. Hope to see you at the Hot Docs screening of Shiners!
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