A new documentary film tells it like it is.

“The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work” is a new documentary film that showcases the essential value and artistry of the trades. Photo courtesy of Richard Yeagley.

Movie reviews are not my specialty, but this is an exception worth shouting from the rooftops.

“The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work” is an 88-minute social documentary that portrays the real-life work, idiosyncrasies and personal convictions of a multitude of working professionals, including two plumbers, two painters, a stone/brick mason, several carpenters, two auto mechanics and numerous other craftsmen (and one woman). The film recognizes the essential contributions that these tradespeople provide, and shows a few of the many challenges they face and the problems they solve in their everyday work. Their stories are combined with academic analysis of the socioeconomic, intellectual and philosophical aspects of modern trade work.

Creator and host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” Mike Rowe, discusses the value and innovation found in today’s trade work, which commonly is overlooked in our contemporary, high-tech society. “The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work” premiered in Baltimore, where it was filmed, on May 12.

Don’t look for it at your neighborhood multiplex, because documentaries of this nature don’t have a lot of blockbuster movie potential. Nonetheless, I viewed a DVD as a media courtesy, and can tell you without reservation that most of you would give rave reviews to this film. It deserves widespread industry screenings, and, even more important, should be shown to prospective apprentices and other public audiences industry citizens interface with.

A somber tone permeates the film, especially in the beginning, as it dwells on laments that will ring familiar to everyone who works in the trades these days – cultural bias, trade professionals reluctant to have their kids follow in their footsteps, school officials favoring the academic over vocational track, young people shying away from physical and dirty work. After that, it becomes more uplifting when trade pros tell of the satisfaction and pride they take in their work.

“I’d rather build the office, I can’t just sit there,” says one of the tradesmen on camera.

“You always hear the mayor or governor talking about building better neighborhoods. Well, I’m part of that,” says another.

To me, the most important message of the film comes across as it delves into the complexities of trade work, displaying it as a matter of brains as well as brawn. A plumber is shown thinking through a situation and talking about the satisfaction he gets from “figuring out how things can be made to work when you wouldn’t find an answer in a book.” A sociologist comments, “In some ways, these people are smart beyond those with degrees.”

Several tradespeople are portrayed who are artists by nature, but gravitated toward trade work to make a living. (Artists’ commercial prospects are even bleaker than trade workers’.) They get shown incorporating construction materials into their hobby artwork, and putting their artistic talents to work in their trade craft.

The film ends on the upbeat, speculating about a possible “blue-collar renaissance” spurred by green building and the need to shore up our nation’s infrastructure.

“The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work” displays classy production values, including beautiful photography with distinctive camera angles and close-ups, along with intelligent narration. It advocates a cause to be sure, but rises above clumsy propaganda. The trade workers are shown not as heroic figures, but everyday people with quirks and flaws, along with talent and drive.

Director Richard Yeagley told me that while theatrical releases are a long shot, he hopes to gain exposure on TV, from DVD sales and online video streaming. When we communicated in April, he was focused on promoting its May 12 premiere in Baltimore, which is his hometown and where almost everyone in the film – including Mike Rowe – at least has a tie. ”In the following months, we are hoping to screen it at several film festivals with the hope of receiving a distribution deal.”

He added, “I intend to screen the film to as many audience members as possible. I happen to feel that the timing of this film, as well as the socioeconomic underpinnings and personalized aspects, allow for a broad-based appeal. We are currently reaching out for support from the documentary film world and construction/trade communities. I am always open to community or industry screenings.”

Visit the film’s Web site at http://thetradesmendocumentary.com.
ND