After a very successful festival run that kicked off at Hot Docs with its World Premiere, Stacey Tenenbaum’s critically acclaimed documentary, Shiners, returns to Toronto for a special theatrical run at The Royal Cinema. From New York City, Tokyo, Sarajevo, to La Paz (Bolivia), meet the men and women who make their living cleaning our shoes.
Tenenbaum travels the world to show us what it means to be a shoe shiner, and to give us a closer look at the people who do this job while letting us see the world through their eyes. Shiners is a character-driven documentary that addresses themes such as class relations to the importance of job satisfaction in our lives. These are themes that concern and affect us all.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tenenbaum during the premiere of the film at Hot Docs last year. She shared how much she had learned about shoe shining as a profession though this film. As well, she was moved by the impressing and humble people who have decided to make this a means to provide for themselves and their families. Tenenbaum also mentioned how many people are seeing great value in shoe shining – it’s part of a return to skills of days past.
During the festival, I also met Kevin Tuohy (featured in the film), who began A Shine & Co. began in 1996 by building a mobile shoeshine chair. The company began in San Francisco but has expanded, and doing extremely well in New York. Kevin shared he turned to shoe shining after having dealt with issues around alcohol abuse. Every member of this company has had his/her ups and downs in life; they have found new meaning through the art of shoe shining.
In the film, we also meet Toronto local Vincent Zacharko who turned to shoe shining after a motorcycle accident prevented him from being active in other ways. He is also a student at Ryerson University, while working at The Nite Owl Barber Shop shoe shining and polishing up on his barber skills – pun intended.
Tenenbaum travels to La Paz where we meet Sylvia, whose story is one of survival. She is one of a few women shoe shiners in La Paz, who turned to this profession to provide for her family. In Bolivia, shoe shining is less glamorous than in other parts of the world. This does not deter Sylvia; she is not ashamed of being shoe shiner. In Sarajevo, Ramiz became a shoe shiner to keep the memory of his father alive — who was himself a well-known shoe shiner in the community.
A history of shoe shining as a profession, this is not. Shiners makes us think about the consumerist culture we live in at this time. It also questions us, to some degree, about how much we acknowledge those who provide us with a service. It helps in making us re-evaulate what service means in this world of disposable culture.
Aside from all this, what I like about Shiners the most is the people. The film reminds of my grandfather’s shoe shop in Guatemala, and the men that worked him when I was little. It was there that I learned the value of a good pair of well-made, nicely shined shoes. It is in highlighting the people that thrive in what is often called a ‘humble profession’ that Shiners reminds us not overlook the value of their service, and most importantly, their humanity.
Shiners will have special screenings in Toronto at The Royal Cinema on February 17, 18 and 20. Director Stacey Tenenbaum and Shoe Shiner/Film Subject Vincent Zacharko will be on hand for a Q+A Feb 17 and Feb 18. For tickets and more info, click here.