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Directed by Amir Soltani and Chihiro Wimbush
95 min | 2015 | USA | Not Rated
*Post-film Q&A with director Amir Soltani.
Shot over seven years, Dogtown Redemption is not only the intimate story of recyclers in West Oakland but a journey through a landscape of love and loss, devotion and addiction, prejudice and poverty.
A surprising number of Americans make their living off a vast river of trash. Dogtown Redemption follows this river, and its inhabitants in a lively, bustling yet invisible corner of California. Every year, Californians buy about 22 billion carbonated and non-carbonated drinks in aluminum, glass, and plastic containers—a river of trash. Under California law beverage containers can be redeemed for a few cents per container. As a result of this legal innovation, trash can be turned into cash—a lifeline for a subculture of marginalized recyclers: the unemployed and underemployed, the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled, former criminals, drug addicts, and prostitutes can reclaim the pride and joy that comes with having a job.
The filmmakers followed the lives of three recyclers: Jason Witt, the titan of recycling; Landon Goodwin, a former minister, and addict who struggles with his own fall from grace; and Miss Hayok Kay, the ultimate outsider, formerly a Polkacide drummer from a prominent Korean-American family, now at the mercy of the elements and predators. Through them, we are introduced to the art, science, economics and politics of recycling: what it offers, how it touches the poor, and why it matters to all of us.
Dogtown Redemption humanizes and celebrates this other America; the America that many of us do not see. That a small recycling center has allowed so many to survive on a daily basis—for years, even decades—is a minor miracle. A reminder that even in trash there can be life, love, and redemption.