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Jessica Oreck on her new Web Series, This Working Man

Less than three months since she premiered her documentary, Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys, at the Tribeca Film Festival, Jessica Oreck is both on the road and back with new work. This Working Man is a web project combining video portraiture, travel, and crowdsourced curation. From the project’s website:

This Working Man is a series of short portraits of men at work. It is about practiced motion, kinetic movement, bodies, and forms. It is about a particular type of man: exceedingly capable, strong, confident, and diligent.

The project is a search for humble masculinity and an unapologetic admittance of the purely primordial attraction of hard work. Each short video is a sexualized ballet of form and gesture, idealizing the grace of practice and the exuberance of a job well done.

This Working Man will be filmed over the course of a two-month road trip across the U.S., from July 1 to August 31, 2013. To read about the road trip, please visit the travel journal. To recommend a working man for this project, please submit here.

Steven Bronstein, a blacksmith in Marshfield, VT, is the first subject, and Oreck’s video of him is above. Via email I asked Oreck several questions about her project, and here are her responses.

“This Working Man” — why just men? Or do you expect to include women in future episodes?

I probably won’t be making a series about women in the same context. See below.

What inspired you to undertake this project? 

The project to me sort scratches two itches that I’ve had pestering me for a while. I think a big part of the first itch was the year I spent living with the family of reindeer herders to make my film Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys. The two brothers I followed give reindeer and snowmobile rides to tourists throughout the winter. Watching them interact with the tourists was fascinating. Though they are both handsome guys, they’re not exactly ripped, and they are missing a few teeth here and there… but women couldn’t help falling in love with them. I could see it happening. It was astonishing how reliable it was – by the time one of the brothers got around to making a fire and cooking a meal, I’d say 85% of the women in the group would be watching them with unabashed interest.It’s that basic, primordial attraction that fascinated (and surprised) me. I realize that this project is a slight departure for me – but in a way it still fits into the genre of ethnobiology because it is about humans as animals – primal, instinctual animals.

And then, the second part of the project is about work and technique. I’m just mesmerized by process. I love to watch people do something they are good at. That grace of extreme practice is infinitely appealing to me. It appeals to my intensely detail-oriented and fastidious nature.

The series seems inspired by travel… or perhaps it’s the other way around? To what extent did your travel guide the series, or vice versa?

In a way, all my films are inspired by travel. I can’t ever tell if I end up somewhere because of the place or the project. Chicken or egg, you know?

But the road trip aspect of This Working Man is much more a part of the project than any of the travel in the past. I just love the idea not having a planned route. I started with the idea that I would just show up in a town and go to the feed store or hardware store and ask around. But then I thought, “Why not let the audience dictate the route?” So that’s what I’ve done. And it’s worked out pretty great so far! Though I hope I get more submissions in the middle of the country. I have a lot in California (and North Carolina oddly).

You request “no nude photograph” submissions. Is that something you’ve had to deal with so far?

No! Luckily. But it was something everyone joked about, so I thought I would include it for good measure.

You discuss the film as an “idealization” of physical work, but with so much manufacturing having left the United States, does it function as an elegy as well?

Yes, certainly. That’s another reason why I felt like this project just couldn’t wait.

Will the series take on additional forms in the future?

I guess that will depend on how it comes together. Maybe nobody will want to watch fit, sweaty men working hard at something they care about – and then I’ll be out of luck.

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