As technology continues to develop, more and more tasks originally done by hand are performed by machines. Products are being made so inexpensively that our culture has taught us to buy new rather than repair the old. Here are 10 short films about people who are still hanging on to what are now lost professions. None of them make much money, most have resigned themselves to the fact they’re in a dying job, and yet all of them seem to genuinely love what they do, dreading the day that they’ll have to retire. And that’s something that the filmmakers seem to understand.
This is a film made by the projectionist at The Screen on The Green in England. As he explains, his role is dying away, but it makes him happy, and he’s going to keep doing it until he’s replaced by digital components.
Here’s an interview with Frank Arnett, a toy maker. Arnett carves wooden toys for children using knives, sand paper, and paint. Due to cheaper, mass-produced toys made in China and Asia, the job isn’t quite profitable. As he says, “If we only did this to make money we’d be in real trouble.”
Meet Assen Ivanov Yordanov, a shoe black from Sofia, Bulgaria. He learned the trade from his father and has been doing it for 40 years. As he explains, the craft is dying and he regrets taking on the profession, but he is proud of his family.
Clearly sword making isn’t in quite as high demand as was some centuries ago. Taiwanese sword maker Kuo Chang Shi may be one of the last. A third-generational sword maker (at least), he was tapped to make the Green Destiny sword featured in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, most likely using human bones.
Clock Magic is a short film about Alexander Phillips, a clock maker in Bar Harbor, Maine. As the Vimeo description says, Phillips is “A man of great passion and skill… determined to work to the end.”
Up There is a beautiful film that looks at the lives of artists who paint massive advertisements. Combating the rise of printed vinyl ads, these scrappy painters create massive works of art, only to be painted over some months later.
Knife sharpening isn’t quite a dying profession as much as the rest of these are. But in Lisbon, Portugal these amoladors travel by bicycle around the city looking for customers by blowing on pan flutes. The bike doubles as source of power to grind down the knives.
Another profession that, while perhaps not quite at risk of extinction, has come under attack as consumers would sooner replace broken shoes rather than repairing them. Here is Felix, a cobbler in Boston’s Harvard Square, who emigrated from Greece 50 years ago and leads a very happy life. As he says, “I have everything.”
Not nearly as romantic — or desirable — as the other professions on our list, a wellman digs well using labor-intensive tools because that is the only way to do the job right. This is just a short trailer for Wellman, a documentary about Antun Gabajcek-Nuno. Check out the description on Vimeo for more information.
Letterpress is the practice of using steel or lead letter prints or “sorts” to print on paper. Using complex, supremely mechanical machines, John Kristensen of Firefly Press in Somerville, MA prints beautiful invitations, certificates, and other documents.