In a world overrun with stuff, it’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to what happens to that stuff when we’re done using it. In Scrap, Stacey Tenenbaum takes a deliberate, thoughtful look at the afterlife of everything from cars to cell phone components, introducing us to people around the world whose interest in old, worn-out things gives them a chance at rebirth — and gives us a glimpse at the potential hiding within even the rustiest piece of “junk.”
From capturing lingering shots of fields full of broken-down street cars and British telephone booths to documenting the complex process of turning an old ship into a new church, Tenenbaum delves deeply into the fate of everyday metal objects that are past their prime. Some of them are lovingly tended by people who pour their hearts and souls into detailed restoration, while others are pragmatically recycled — in one case, a jet fuselage is repurposed as a home for a grandmother and her grandchildren living near Bangkok.
Tenenbaum takes her time, setting up sweeping shots that cover large spaces, but also lingering over small details, like the intricate work that goes into South Dakota artist John Lopez’ beautiful recycled metal sculptures. The film doesn’t seem intended to shame people for discarding old things — though the segments filmed at an e-waste processing facility in India will likely leave many viewers feeling guilty about their contribution to the world’s mountains of trash — but rather to remind viewers that there’s a creative way to repurpose almost anything.
Cinematic and unhurried, Scrap is lyrical and thought provoking, offering its vignettes as examples of people taking fresh perspectives on things that many of us wouldn’t spare a second thought on. Even the e-waste facility provides inspiration for photojournalist Saumya Khandelwal, who turns what she sees there into art that could help make a difference in the world. As the saying goes, everything old is new again, and Scrap helps prove that adage true. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Pam Grady: You may never look at the detritus of our industrial world in the same way after watching Stacey Tenenbaum’s entrancing documentary. A kind of worldwide survey, Tenenbaum looks in on a rural junkyard, an artist who fashions sculpture out of metallic refuse, an airplane scrap heap in which the rotting fuselages are both homes and tourist attractions, and much more. Heaps that the world at large sees as waste carry possibilities in the eyes of the people who find purpose in tending to them. Artistic expression for some, subsistence living for others, reclaiming rotting historical artifacts for still others, this “garbage” serves multiple purposes. There is beauty here, not just in the sights of the forest claiming dominion over rusting automobiles, rows of disused English phone boxes awaiting renewal, and scuttled ships due for dismantling filling a harbor, but also in the spirit of ingenuity that finds treasure in trash.
Loren King Director and producer Stacey Tenenbaum’s documentary Scrap is an elegy for refuse, specifically metal, ranging from clunky cars to tiny cell phone chips. She takes us around the world for short visits with people who’ve repurposed and/or restored discarded items, revealing the deeply personal joy of rescue that’s also a rebirth. The film is a metaphor-rich journey that offers the chance to spend time with passionate, creative characters and a meditation on the things we abandon and the things we save. Read full review.
Leslie Combemale This visually beautiful and very meditative documentary considers the sort of metaphysical value of scrapped metal. Shadowed and rusted-through cars seem to haunt the forest in which they decompose, parts of decommissioned Navy vessels are being repurposed into a church, artists are finding beauty and meaning in what was once of use. This is all very inspiring for folks who believe in the cycle of all things. Scrap asks us to think about the machinery around us as having life and history. This film functions well as calm, considered holiday viewing.
Jennifer Merin Scrap is a quietly enthralling and far-flung documentary journey into the realm of human detritus large and small, and a consideration of the many ways in which the debris is reclaimed by artists for use in their creative endeavors or collected by people who see the beauty of legacy in it. Documentary filmmaker Stacey Tenenbaum’s probing and philosophical voice over narration, her on screen interviews with diverse waste reclaimers and the film’s extraordinarily beautiful cinematography lead to a calm and contemplative state of mind, making Scrap a peaceful meditation about our human nature and our stuff. It’s ideal for a brief escape from the pre pre-holiday rush.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Stacey Tenenbaum’s documentary Scrap is a contemplative exploration of how one person’s trash is another’s treasure. The filmmaking team follows several individuals who reuse debris, mostly metalworkers, architects, and artists who reuse all sorts of found vehicles, ships, farm equipment, and more for their art or collection. There’s a touching segment about a family in Thailand that lives in old airplanes for shelter – and then the matriarch charges tourists to take photos if they want to visit. It’s a compelling and thought-provoking documentary that will make audiences see the value in reuse and recycling.
Cate Marquis Stacey Tenenbaum’s Scrap is the kind of documentary film that invites you into its world, to look closer at something seemingly ordinary which suddenly becomes intriguing, and perhaps even a bit profound. In this case, it is the realm of metal objects whose useful lives have ended – scrap metal – but which are being re-used, restored or reborn as art. Read full review.
Directors: Stacey Tenenbaum
Release Date: December 2, 2022
Running Time: 118 minutes
Language: English and various other languages with English subtitles
Screenwriters: Stacey Tenenbaum (Documentary)
Distribution Company: Documentary Channel
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin