Working Worlds 2020

Under Pressure

(Katharina Riedler, curator)

“Stress-resistant” – a standard requirement found in many job postings, with the actual task seeming almost secondary next to it. It does not matter whether the occupation actually involves demanding and stressful situations or is rather calm and rarely hectic: resilience and the willingness to face challenging situations are considered some sort of basic requirement for working people. At the same time, more and more people find themselves under increased performance pressure, heightened in many cases by looming job loss and frequently resulting in despair and more frequent illness. Working under pressure: often normal now.

“Keep calm and carry on” could be another title for this year’s Working Worlds program, as the protagonists of the four documentaries are faced with challenging tasks and tense situations. Which calls for persistence and calmness.

The activities of the gravediggers, pathologists, and undertakers in the elegiacally beautiful Meanwhile on Earth are characterized by regulated, ritualistic procedures and solemn silence. The film never loses touch with reality – at a farewell ceremony, there needs to be someone behind the scenes to start the CD player at the right time. The encounter with death is a daily, routine fact, and it is with a wonderful casualness that banalities in conversations among colleagues meet life’s final and lasting event.

Commissioned by a British NGO to deactivate landmines in NagornoKarabakh, a group of Armenian women demonstrate strong nerves. Utmost concentration and following strict rules are cast in stone, as one hasty action could have fatal consequences. Nothing to Be Afraid of does not provide much background info, but no one without good (financial) reason would expose themselves to this situation. With the exception of the required warning signals, the work is done in staunch silence, broken only when the mined stretch of forest is left again and no one has been hurt. This is when the tension visibly eases, and there is joking at the group meal. However, a stale aftertaste remains.

Which also can be found in Typhoon Mama, as soon as it becomes clear that Filipina Yolanda has already run into great debt in Sweden so her sons, whom she left behind at home 20 years ago, could have a better life, still they keep calling for more cash. She is one out of millions of Filipinas and Filipinos who live as migrant workers in the Arab region or the West, usually in adverse conditions. The illusion of paradise in Europe meets the sobering realization that the hard-earned amounts of money can never be high enough.

Two worlds also meet in Automotive. There is great performance pressure at an Audi car parts storage: Sedanur, a temporary worker, knows that she is no robot, that one careless moment can cost several thousand Euros, and her job. Later she is fired anyway, without having made any mistakes, as a consequence of the Diesel Scandal. She has to sit tight and hope that the automotive industry will pick up again. While Sedanur’s situation becomes more and more dire, headhunter Eva – ranking among the best in her profession each year – has long started looking for experts who will drive forward the company’s automation and the replacing of humans with intelligent machines. She herself will be hard to replace, but no one knows exactly what the future holds.