“If you don’t do it full-time you ain’t gonna get what you need”
As the economy struggles and paying jobs become few and far between, people need to do whatever is necessary to survive. For many New York City residents, canning is the one thing out there that will ensure they have at least a few dollars by the end of the day. Some of these cart pushers are homeless, some immigrants, and some even war veterans without the ability to find work after factories and/or restaurants employing them have closed. One woman—Susan—was even the recipient of a prestigious IBM Award back in 1990. Unable to survive on social security alone, she hits the streets.
Directed by Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill, Redemption is the duo’s second Oscar nomination after China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province in 2009. Following a slew of canners from all corners of the world now co-existing in New York, the two try to tackle the hows and whys bringing them all to this point. Charismatic characters like Walter and Cuban Joe try to put a positive spin on their work, Susan shows us the utilitarianism of it all with a Chinese rival, and Nuve explains how the bottle and cans have kept her two children, sister, and nephews from going hungry. Canning literally has become a job any and all people can do without the need of resumes or experience.
Sometimes the film’s subjects merely talk at the camera while others engage friends and new acquaintances to shed light on the community. We learn about companions Hassan and Lily meeting in a redemption center; a Guatemalan farmer who grows corn back home and cans to sustain it during the off-season; and perhaps the saddest story of all in Japanese transplant John who hasn’t had a job since his office at the World Trade Center was destroyed. None of them are asking for help, none are ashamed—anymore—of what they do. They aren’t sitting in front of swanky restaurants with out-stretched hands. No, even without the ability to find conventional work, they created a job just the same.
Alpert and O’Neill have found a fresh voice in the city that may not be what you expect. If you go in thinking about the homeless rabble we like to complain about while quickly hypothesizing how they can fix their situations without the capacity to understand quite how tragic their lives have been you’ll be surprised at how they’ve come to this point. These men and women have put in their time and have played by the rules in a system that simply can’t sustain them anymore. You must respect them trying their best and having the modesty to do it without begging for charity. Life gave them a rough hand and they’ve refused to give up.