Sundance 2017: Machines
First time feature filmmaker Rahul Jain doesn’t take the usual documentarian route. He favors an abstract vision of labor over a standard ‘talking head’ method of explaining the situation. His isn’t the dominant voice at the center of Machines - it’s the workers (when it isn’t the hum of the equipment around them). Jain’s visual approach is to show the conditions of the factory in long, unedited shots; these shots give you time to reflect on the danger and unsafe conditions the textiles that clothe and provide comfort to our modern Western life are produced in. He utilizes several tracking shots to give you an representation of the working space, and the conditions workers endure transporting heavy loads without basic hand transportation. The machines that stamp the textiles show their wear and tear; close observation can show the lack of conformity amongst the units, and another static shot of the ‘under the hood’ sections shows them precariously bound together and patched to keep up with demand.
Jain also utilizes the environment, catching wonderful shots of faces behind the flowing textiles, like elegant waterfalls in bright colors. These faces are the true gift to the story; unobscured by masks and safety measures, we see their commitment, their strain and their exhaustion. He avoids a thesis, allowing the subjects he observes to explain some key points about the labor situations of Sachin in Western India. A laborer, a foreman, the plant owner, and a labor activists are all introduced with little flair and you suss out their place in the story via context, allowing you to think of images you have been shown and contextualize them with the reality and emotion the participants approach them with everyday.
While Jain is careful to avoid his own point of view as the film's take away message, he is careful to lay out the case for the workers: men take out loans simply to afford the transportation and temporary lodging, as the plant's production sessions are typically only a month long and positions are not guaranteed. They work hard over 12 hours, take a brief respite, and work again. Jain saves the strongest rebuttal for a worker outside the factory. ‘What will happen to us now that you have visited?’, the worker asks. Who will help them to find a living wage and work safely, with protections and an 8 hour day? He doesn’t provide an answer, not does he condemn Western culture; but it’s impossible to view the film without thinking of the eroded condition of American labor as we inaugurate a President seeking to bring these exact same kinds of manufacturing jobs back to our heartland.