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The Art of the Shine
The Art of the Shine

Stacey Tenenbaum’s joyous and quirky new documentary film, The Art of the Shine, that celebrates the art of shoe shining and the men and women who have chosen this unique career, will premiere on Independent Lens on Monday, April 9, 2018, 10:00 – 11:00 PM (check local listings) on PBS.

The Art of the Shine travels from Toronto to Paris to New York to La Paz and beyond, introducing viewers to shiners who share their feelings about their work. In Bolivia, where shining is looked down upon, shiners wear masks so their classmates and neighbors won’t know what they do for a living. In Sarajevo, we meet Ramiz, the last shoe shiner in the city. Ramiz inherited his job from his father, who was beloved — during the Bosnian war, the simple act of getting one’s shoes shined was seen as an act of resistance and a statement of hope.

With a renewed interest in all things ‘retro,’ shining is slowly becoming hip again. In cities like New York, Toronto, and Tokyo, the job is attracting younger people who are working to elevate the profession and give it a newfound cachet. Some are turning the trade into an art form, hand-painting luxury shoes to create custom patinas and designs. In Tokyo, the dapper Yuya purveys a seriously high-end shine that takes an hour and is accompanied by a flute of champagne. Others, like Vincent in Toronto, find shoe shining an effective form of therapy.

In New York, we meet Kevin and his crew, all recovering alcoholics, who he calls his “sober shoe shine gang.” Together they’ve found not only sobriety but a way of life that’s artistically and socially fulfilling. Says Kevin: “I feel like I have the secret to life.” Don, who works from a cart on Fifth Avenue, would probably agree. A former accountant and baker, he gave up the stressful 9-to-5 routine for shoe shining and has never looked back. Joking with people on the street and chatting with his harried customers, Don wouldn’t trade his life for theirs. “This is freedom. It pays the bills and I’m free. I think I live a happier life – I stopped chasing my tail.”

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