Waging a Living
Docurama // Unrated // $26.95 // September 26, 2006
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 12, 2006
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"Waging a Living" is a 2005 documentary taking a look at four examples of the growing amount of "working poor" in the United States. As the documentary notes, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing, and the amount of people considered middle class is shrinking. The cost of living has left many behind, resulting in situations like the one that Jean Reynolds is faced with.

Reynolds is a nursing assistant who has spent over a decade at her job, taking care of seniors and others who need care. She makes only $11 an hour and has to take care of her ill daughter (who cannot afford insurance and is suffering from cancer) and her two grandchildren. If she works a full-time week every week, it's enough to just cover the rent for her and her family. To be able to put food on the table, she has to find ways to get overtime.

Barbara Brooks is a counselor who barely makes enough to support herself and her kids, and requires aid. When she finally manages to get a somewhat better position and a raise in her salary, she finds out that she has lost more in aid than the amount of her raise. The harder she works, the harder things seem to get, which she describes as, "hustling backwards."

Jerry Longoria is a security guard in San Fransisco, guarding an absolutely beautiful new building. He needs to stay near his job, but the only apartment he can afford on his salary in the city is one that requires him to share a bathroom and is literally falling apart in places. He has two children that he hasn't seen in years because he can't afford a ticket to go see them. While we do get to see him achieve that dream, he loses his post shortly after, and finds himself in a lower-paying position in another building.

Mary Venittelli has gone through a very difficult divorce, and now finds herself on the verge of not making ends meet doing a waitressing job. She has found herself using credit cards to get the things that she needs for her children, and the result is credit card debt that is worse than even she realized. As a result of barely being home, her relationship with her children has suffered.

This is a tough, troubling documentary that looks at situations that are very real for many, many people across the country. The documentary profiles people who are working good jobs and barely making ends meet. The film presents their stories in a straightforward manner, with little music or other touches and le. While the film does offer some facts regarding the financial difficulties that many Americans face and put the viewer into these situations, the film offers no answers about how the country can turn around this situation. However, it is good to see that the participants (who were followed for three years by the filmmakers) have found at least a little bit of hope to hold onto by the end of the documentary, as things begin to start to turn in their favor.


VIDEO: "Waging a Living" is presented by Docurama in the film's original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. Image quality is generally excellent, considering the budget and style of the feature. Sharpness and detail are consistently reasonably good, as the picture always looked crisp, if never crystal clear. Some minor shimmering was seen, but no artifacting or other concerns. Colors remained natural and appeared accurately presented, with no smearing or other issues.

SOUND: The stereo soundtrack remains crisp and clear throughout.

EXTRAS: "Roosevelt's America" (25 minutes) is a short film about Roosevelt, an immigrant from West Africa living in Chicago and struggling to support his family and offer them a better life than they had in Africa. Throughout the documentary, we hear more about Roosevelt's experiences in Liberia and some of the tragic, horrifying events that he commonly saw on the dangerous streets there. His wife had to stay behind, and part of the film follows his attempts to try and bring her out of the country. The other half watches as Roosevelt (who has a degree in civil engineering) struggles to find a job, sharing his apartment with his mother, father, brother and his children.

"Waging a Dream" director Roger Weisberg provides a 35-minute interview about the film. As per usual with the extras from Docurama, a title card with a question appears before giving the filmmaker a chance to answer. The questions give a good overview of the process, from finding the subjects to reaching an audience to the camera affecting the reality the filmmaker is trying to show. It's a detailed and informative interview that also provides some updates on the subjects seen in the film. Finally, we get a filmmaker bio, more about Docurama and trailers for other titles from the company.

Final Thoughts: "Waging a Living" does not have the answers, but does shine a light on the issue of working poor - people who work very hard and never seem to get ahead (and, as seen in in the film, sometimes end up "hustling backwards.") The DVD presents good audio/video quality and some enjoyable supplemental features. Definitely a recommended rental.

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