HBO Original Documentary “REDEMPTION” Debuts December 28
One of three nominees for this year’s Documentary Short Subject Oscar®, REDEMPTION looks at a growing army of jobless New Yorkers, whose treasures are found in trash. Created by Emmy®-winning filmmakers Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill, who spent months on the streets getting to know the canners and gaining their trust before turning on the cameras, this timely HBO Original Documentary REDEMPTION is presented amidst the ongoing debate over income disparity in America, and premieres on Saturday, December 28 at 10pm, exclusively on HBO SIGNATURE / HBO SIGNATURE HD.
While employed New Yorkers pass by in a hurry on their way to and from work, “canners” eke out a meagre living on the sidewalks of the city by collecting empty bottles and cans and dropping them at redemption centres for five cents each. Former short-order cooks, computer-sales executives and factory workers, these men and women turned to canning after the economic downturn eliminated their livelihoods. Despite their non-traditional livelihood, many canners have worked beside each other on sidewalks for years, forming a unique sense of community.
“In the best of times for some, there is a growing army of New Yorkers who survive scouring the sidewalks and sifting through our city’s trash,” note Alpert and O’Neill. “As politicians debate whether life in New York is a tale of two cities, REDEMPTION shows the Dickensian conditions at the growing bottom of our city’s economy.”
Walter, a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran, now a canner for a decade, watching the number of canners soar as odd jobs that once supported the poor have disappeared. Like many unemployed canners, he equates the odds of getting hired for a conventional job with “hitting the lotto.”
Joe, another canner, says that everyone seems to be down on their luck right now, while Susan, a former computer-sales executive who turned to canning when she couldn’t get by on Social Security, notes that the young people in the city hold the good jobs. “What are we supposed to do?” asks Nuve, a devoted mother, intent on giving her children a brighter future.
The days are exhausting and the nights are dangerous for canners, especially those like Walter, who sleep in public places such as park benches or even the redemption centres. Lilly, a Chinese canner who speaks limited English, feels fortunate to have a home, but shares her tiny one-bedroom apartment with six others and frequently works through the night. The reality of life as a canner is so harsh that one ex-con considers arrests to be “rescues,” because incarceration means three meals a day, a bath and a job in a kitchen.
Says Susan, “I guess it’s survival of the fittest,” a sentiment echoed in the words and actions of the men and women who struggle to get by on the tiny sums the redemption centres offer them. Many have canned for years and have no reason to remain hopeful, yet they are, rising each day to sift through the waste of the city and survive another day.
Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill’s previous HBO projects include 2012’s “In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution”; the Emmy®-winning “Baghdad ER” (2006); the Emmy®-nominated “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq” (2007) and “Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery” (2008); the Academy Award®-nominated “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province” (2009); and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award winner “Wartorn: 1861-2010” (2010).
REDEMPTION was directed and produced by Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill; edited by David Meneses; original music by Jonathan Zalben; cinematography and audio by Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill. For HBO: supervising producer, Jacqueline Glover; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.
REDEMPTION premieres in Asia on Saturday, December 28 at 10pm on HBO SIGNATURE / HBO SIGNATURE HD.
Other playtimes on HBO Signature: Monday, December 30 (7.35pm), Thursday, January 2 (5.30pm) and Wednesday, January 22 (7.15pm).