I found out about the documentary via Instagram, and Stacey was kind enough to chat with me by phone. Following are some excerpts from our conversation.
Where did you get the idea for this film?
I’ve always loved getting my shoes shined! I lived in Bombay, India for six months, and I got my shoes shined nearly every day. Bombay is wonderful but very dirty! So shoe shining has always been a great pleasure of mine.
Because I loved it, I had this notion that it was a really satisfying profession. But over time, I came to realize that many people think of shoe shining as a terrible profession. In some cultures, there is even a huge prejudice against shiners. The shoe shiners I’ve met all LOVE their jobs; it IS very satisfying for them.
So my questions became, “Why don’t more people value shoe shiners?” “Why does even the act of getting their shoes shined make some people uncomfortable?” I’ve actually heard people say, ‘I would never get my shoes shined; I would never want someone at my feet.’
So the film is about more than simply the act of shining shoes?
Yes! It’s more about the type of work that we value. It’s encompasses everyone who does manual work.
It also looks at our throwaway culture. Meaning, do you keep something and take care of it, or do you simply toss it out without even thinking about how to extend its useful life?
What cities will you visit?
Filming takes place in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, London, New York, Sarajevo, Toronto and La Paz, Bolivia. All in about 4 months!
What can you say about your interviewees?
These are fantastic characters. They’re entertainers in a way. They are really charismatic people who appreciate visual appearance, texture, and beauty.
My youngest subject is a 20 year old young man in Toronto, and the oldest is a blind gentleman in Hong Kong who doesn’t remember his age. We think he’s in late 80s or early 90s. He’s been shining shoes for 65 years, and now does everything by touch. He can feel when the leather has taken in enough polish and moisture.
Is the dress shoe dying?
I think the dress shoe is making a comeback. People are starting to see the value of buying quality goods. There’s this whole interest in Mad Men, the dapper look. You’d be surprised how much money men are spending are shoes! They look at them as an investment.
What are some of the biggest cultural lessons/differences you’ve observed?
I interviewed a mother In Bolivia supporting four children with 20-cent shoe shines. Shoe shiners there don’t want their friends or neighbors to know what they do, and actually wear these masks to hide their identities. Even the poor get their shoes shined in Bolivia, and everyone looks down on shiners.
Contrast that with Paris, where “patina artists” are extremely well respected. There, only the rich can afford to have their shoes shined.
When can we see the film?
I hope to finish editing by September, 2016. It will air sometime in 2017, in English on the Documentary Channel across Canada, and in French on TV5 in Quebec. We are still looking for US and international broadcasters. I’ll also submit Shiners to film festivals around the world!
Meanwhile, you can stay up to date on Facebook and on Instagram @shinersdocumentary.
Thanks to Stacey for the interview, for following her dream, and for sharing it with us! I wish her the best of successes with her film.
All photos courtesy of Stacey Tenenbaum.