Dirty Work

Institute History


It's no small achievement that directors David Sampliner and Tim Nackashi create exceptional loveliness in this documentary about the dirtiest jobs you'd never want to do. Dirty Work introduces us to three professionals: a "reproductive physiologist" who collects bull semen (yes, personally) for agricultural uses, a lifelong septic-tank pumper, and a "restorative artist" who prepares corpses for funerals.

With remarkable intimacy, we learn about each person's career trajectory, little-known facts about his work, and the professional rewards that make his job worthwhile. In each case, the autobiographical portrait contains strands of humor and introspection and compellingly suggests that each person's labor connects him to other people, everywhere. After all, where do folks suppose their meat supply comes from? What are the repressed narratives swirling around septic tanks? What's the point of Mama looking good just before she's buried? These three spokespeople are happy to shoulder such existential questions for the rest of us, and before long the film's "ick" factor takes a backseat to poignant empathy.

Deceptively sensitive camerawork, an evocative musical score, frequent intertitles (well chosen from the longer, spoken interviews), and a pervading sense of respect round out this eloquent film, whose deep humanism far outstrips its sensational content. And that is saying a lot.

— Shannon Kelley

Screening Details

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