Philadelphia City Paper – Matthew Schantz

The abrasive sound of metal and the visage of a scruffy middle-aged man. The camera pans out. He is rollerblading up a hill pushing a shopping cart loaded with metal scrap. This is how the subject of The Scrapper, Joe a Germantown Academy graduate, two war veteran and one time vice-CEO of a company — now lives. The 30 minute short captures a day in his life. Joe rummages through trash, grabbing metals and “antiques.” He is the personification of the idiom “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” showing off his collection of finds including a bottle of whisky, an old toilet,and the game Simon. He had a good job and good pay for a time, but Joe was laid off. The screen fades to black with the same shoulder-wide shot that it began with, the rattling sound of metal lingering through the credit reel.




Molly Eichel

When filmmaker Isaac Williams inquired about how to go about screening his horror film, The Mind, the response he received was that it takes careful planning and a lot of money.

“I have a lot of time to plan,” says Williams, “and not a lot of money.”

But by tag teaming with 941 Theater, Williams and two other local filmmakers will get the chance to screen their movies on a large scale. “None of us delude ourselves that thousands of people are going to see these movies,” says Williams. “But it lends a certain legitimacy.”

The informal night of premières begins with Joe Kramer’s 20th Century Boy, about a man who claims to be a soldier from WWI who mysteriously shows up in the present. Kramer made it through two weeks at UArts before defecting for a job at TLA Video, which he calls a mini-film school boot camp. He initially submitted his film to 941’s Backseat Film Festival, but missed the deadline. The 941ers liked it enough to ask Kramer to return.

The Scrapper, a half-hour documentary directed by artist Jonathan Olshefski, is about Joe, a man who glides around Philly on a pair of roller skates with his shopping cart searching for metal to sell to scrap yards. Olshefski was performing a screenwriting exercise at the Steak and Beer under the Somerset El stop when the gregarious Joe struck up a conversation with him. “He approached me and we just sat around and talked about hockey for a couple hours,” says Olshefski. Days later, Olshefski saw Joe again, this time with roller skates and shopping cart in tow, and asked if he could document his life.

Williams’ film, The Mind, rounds out the program. In this horror movie told in vignettes, six average people are mysteriously driven to exhume parts of one skeleton and slowly descend into murderous madness. Williams, who also did time with Kramer at TLA (they worked on each other’s projects), first met 941 co-owner and lead film programmer Zafer lkücü when the two were undergrads at Temple.

Each filmmaker reiterates the importance of having a theater to show off their films.

“For a venue like this, it’s a showcase for your work as it is, how you envision it,” says Olshefski. The big screen treatment is one rarely afforded to independent filmmakers.”It’s incredibly difficult, time consuming, expensive and painstaking to make a bad movie, let alone a good movie,” says lkücü, who plans on making local screenings a recurring event. “I know these guys — they put their hearts and souls and personal relationships on the line to get these movies made. Once this happens, I think they just deserve to be seen and hopefully enjoyed.”


Local Film Premieres | Sun., May 17, 6 p.m., $3-$10, 941 Theater, 941 N. Front St., 215-235-1385,

The Journal of Underground Film…

Meet The Scrapper

Like a modern-day Sisyphus, Joe bursts into the first frame of Jonathan Olshefski’s documentary The Scrapper. At first we don’t see Joe’s “boulder,” but he describes it to us: A shopping cart loaded down with 100 to 120 pounds of scrap that he’s dug out of the neighborhood trash. Joe is initially framed from underneath in a powerful close-up of his head and shoulders. He performs his duty boldly and proudly. He is not resigned to his fate like in the Greek myth and he repeats his task simply because other people will keep discarding their unwanted and — to them — worthless junk.

Thankfully, Joe uses the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” so we don’t have to sound cliché inventing it for him. The documentary alternates between verité travels with the cheery scrap collector and sit-down interviews — usually on somebody’s stoop — in which he ruminates on his lot in life. During one of the sit-downs, Joe tells us that he’s very passionate about scrapping, that he loves the thrill of the hunt. But he doesn’t need to say that explicitly. We see the joy in his work during his travels. He’s like an antiques dealer given free reign to grab whatever he wants out of a 14th-century European castle. However, instead of Europe he cruises the mean streets of Kensington, a rough neighborhood in the northeast section Philadelphia.

Joe doesn’t just pick up plastic bottles and aluminum cans. He grabs still functioning children’s toys, perfectly good furniture and, most valuable, precious metals. With his trusty magnet, plus keen eyes and ears, Joe can determine the metallic composition of any object. In one key scene, he picks up a a serving tray, runs through all the possibilities it could be made of and excitedly reveals that it’s made out of copper, one of the most precious metals he could have found. Another time, he drops cutlery on the cement sidewalk to determine if it’s made out of silver by the tinkling noise it makes. It tinkles, so it is.

Extremely chatty and personable, Joe comes across as an incredibly charming, nice guy. But during a few choice moments, he proves that he’s tough enough to brave the dangers that lurk while combing through garbage from midnight to the wee hours of the just barely rising sun. Through words, he swiftly disarms certain guys who are looking for a fight and the drunk homeless guys trying to butt their way into the film … not that Joe hasn’t had a few libations himself before embarking on this night’s scavenger hunt. And if push ever came to shove, one gets the impression that he could more than hold his own if a confrontation ever became physical.

But there’s a battle weariness to Joe and, at times when Olshefski gets him to let his guard down, we find out why. He’s a veteran of two wars: Grenada and the first Gulf War. He’s also a veteran of two marriages. And, strangely, Joe tells a long story about the time when he held a powerful position in a major corporation. He had money. He had success. Sounds like he had his life on track. Well, a different track, anyway.

However, we don’t know if Joe is being the unreliable narrator of his own life. The documentary is structured as if the entire film takes place on one night of scrap collecting. Joe is a garrulous guy and he talks about having drinks with friends, so he must be a social person. But we spend the night mostly alone with Joe. Through the camera’s non-obtrusive style, we feel as if we are hanging with Joe ourselves, as if we are his personal confidant for the evening. Joe tells us a lot of stories. Does it even matter what’s true or not? They’re good stories, nonetheless.

One of Joe’s favorite memories is the time he got married barefoot on the beach. Although the marriage has since ended, Joe wants us to know that he’s a romantic guy. And Olshefski has crafted a sensitive, romantic portrait of him. At the end of the film, Joe is your new best friend. The guy who’d give you the shirt off his back to help you out, or if not the one he’s wearing, then a perfectly good used shirt he’s picked up along the curb.

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>