The corporate sponsored documentary is perhaps one of the oldest forms of documentary and one of the most troublesome. Anytime a corporate interest invests in a documentary we want to know how much control they held over the final outcome. We scrutinize the piece for a pro-corporate message and grow suspect of alterer motives.
Ready to Work: Portraits of Braddock is a feature length documentary funded by the Levi’s jeans corporation. Material from the film is similar, if not the same, as that used in television commercials for Levi’s. Even though denim products do not lead a primary role in the advertisements, on screen graphics ensure that the viewing public knows just who is behind these spots. Whereas, the feature film could play out with only the keenest individuals uncovering that the film they have just witnessed was born of a marketing campaign.
Knee-jerk reactions to the the corporate influence that might have been applied to this work could easily blind a purist to the beauty of this film. Set amongst the ruins of a once thriving steel mill town Ready to Work presents a series of portraits of a new generation of Braddock residents working to re-vitalize the community. The film is shot with a steady and focused eye finding great beauty in the crumbling and rusted remains of a blue collar town. From their young mayor, a man who looks more like a professional wrestler than a politician, to artists and urban farmers who have re-imagined Braddock as a Bohemian land of opportunity those who remain in Braddock are a portrayed as a motley band of survivors emboldened with the spirit best described as – American.
Local Braddock resident and filmmaker Tony Buba, who’s wonderful autobiographical film Lightning over Braddock partially documents the downfall of Braddock, has stated that the Levi’s commercials only portrayed a glamourous collection of individuals, not commonly seen in Braddock. While, without a doubt, the ad men and the filmmaker (Aaron Rose) behind Ready to Work: Portraits of Braddock did a casting call for just the right individuals based certainly on both looks as well as personal stories, I can hardly find enough credence in Buba’s criticism to dismiss the uplifting and magnificent looking evidence that is presented.
I can say that when I heard someone made a documentary about the re-investment of Braddock I immediately wondered if Tony had made a new film. I was a bit saddened to find it was an outsider hired to tell Braddock’s story, especially when this unique rust-belt town already has a great filmmaker of its own. Still, were Buba to have been hired, Buba’s film and Ready to Work would be two totally different films, perhaps each with their own merits, but none-the-less I am quite surprised at just how engaging this film was, not to mention how free of corporate influence it felt.
Watch it here: