by Abby Ginzberg

Every so often a movie comes along and you realize that after seeing it, your view of the world, other people and an issue has changed. Dogtown Redemption is such a film.
Seven years in the making, Dogtown tells the story of West Oakland recyclers with a loving, but realistic, close-up lens. Co-directors, Amir Soltani and Chihiro Wimbush, shot over 300 hours of footage over many years and have created a moving portrait of those who work hard to make a living from what the rest of us throw away.
As with many documentaries, the film is as good as the characters that are featured in it. What makes Dogtown so special is that the same people who we would not notice on the streets, pulling their carts filled to the max with bottles, cans and other recyclables, become individuals with unique stories and challenges during the course of the film.
And the film reveals another truism of documentary filmmaking, namely that filmmakers need the trust of the people they are filming—and that takes time and patience. But when, as with Dogtown, the trust is built, the payoff is enormous.
We get to meet a number of recyclers, whose personal circumstances are beyond challenging, but whose tenacity and sheer brute strength as they navigate the streets of Oakland demand our admiration and respect. Through their participation in the Dogtown film, we care about them, and are heartbroken to see their struggles.

Life on the streets of Dogtown, an area in West Oakland where the film Dogtown Redemption is set.
Life on the streets of Dogtown, an area in West Oakland where the film Dogtown Redemption is set.

What may have been a statistic or a short TV news story about strangers on the street, becomes a deep, emotional journey of people we feel we know because the filmmakers had the patience to wait and allow the recyclers to entrust their life experiences to the film. Dogtown Redemption is an emotional testament to the humanity and perseverance of the characters and should enable all viewers to begin to see the people behind the carts.
Abby Ginzberg is a Peabody award-winning documentary filmmaker and the President of the Berkeley Film Foundation, which provided a grant to the film in 2014. Berkeley FILM Foundation is proud to have supported Dogtown Redemption with funding to complete the project.