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Working on Work

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 16, 2007 6:47PM

Chicago filmmaker Daniel Kraus is looking for another job. No, he doesn't want to change careers. He wants to make a movie about it.

Earlier this month his documentary Sheriff was broadcast on the PBS series "Independent Lens." It chronicles the day-to-day job of Sheriff Ronald E. Hewitt as he attempts to maintain order in the small community of Brunswick County, North Carolina. Sure, there are guns involved and people drawl. But "The Dukes of Hazzard" it is not (or even Mayberry). Rather than try to shoehorn the quirky proceedings into some kind of a tidy little episode suitable for "COPS," Kraus instead takes a direct, ascetic approach. That means no talking-head style interviews, no music, no voiceovers. Just people doing their jobs, shown in a way unusual for American television.

2007_1u-work.jpgInspired in part by Studs Terkel's classic oral history projects, Kraus decided to embark on a series of documentaries which he has termed the WORK series. The second installment, Musician, just wrapped. At its center is brilliant, iconoclastic (and workaholic) jazz performer Ken Vandermark. Through scenes of him composing alone at an instrument or a table and then playing through those ideas onstage we get a rare, unvarnished glimpse of what it means to dedicate oneself to an overwhelmingly noncommercial form of music.

Musician hasn't even been scheduled for any Chicago screenings yet, but Kraus is already on the lookout for his next subject. "I'm hoping that my fellow Chicagoans can help me out," he told us. "It's kind of like my own little 'Star Search.' There is no profile for the ideal candidate for a WORK documentary — other than the subject must be a hard worker — so the field is wide open. Any job is fair game (Fireman, Branch Manager, Mechanic, Dentist, Umpire), the location can be anywhere from Chicago to Alaska to your tiny hometown, and the subject does not necessarily have to be overtly media-friendly or colorful (although if they are, that's OK, too). I would just like readers to email me at movies(at)workseries(dot)com with their ideas, including as much information as possible (with links, if they exist) about their proposed subjects."

Chicago is The City That Works ... so let's get to work.

Image via Illinois State Museum.