A towboat drifts down the Mississippi River, due for the port of New Orleans. The water, the banks, the bright lights of a port ahead, the lure of a coming paycheck and a home-cooked meal: This is the world of Barge. On board, dry land’s misfits find purpose and direction twenty-eight days at a time as the steady hands of an industrial ecosystem teeming with line boats, fleet boats, and a few million tons of cargo moved each year. Amongst the crew are a green deckhand following his father and grandmother into their family business, a former convict working his way upward in hope of being First Mate, a thirty-eight-year-old veteran engineer in no hurry to retire, all on the ancient waterway pulling a double shift as the backbone of the national economy. As long as the boat’s moving, they’re making money. Barge is an intimate portrait of the machinery of American ambitions.
Reviews / Quotes:
“Compelling mix of the magnificent and the humdrum.” Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice
“Barge portrays the ballet of industrial America.” Kate X Messer, The Austin Chronicle
“A meditative microcosm of America and the American Dream” Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
“A breath of fresh air” Mike McCutchen, Ain't It Cool News
“…what’s there is fascinating, with the hypnotic pull of the currents dragging us along into the existence of these men……showing us both the good and bad in his protagonists” Christopher Llewellyn Reed, Hammer to Nail
“...a powerfully shot and in-depth look into the struggles of living the isolated life of a barge worker.” Alex White, Examiner
“First-time director Ben Powell finds a rhythm and beauty in their seemingly mundane treks through America’s waterways.” Matthew Jacobs, Huffington Post
"Do we not appreciate barges enough? A case for these 200-foot, flat-bottomed vessels playing an essential role in civilization is made by the captain of the Mary Parker, a towboat, which pushes along a dozen or so tightly-packed barges down the Mississippi River in filmmaker Ben Powell's low-key documentary. "When you get in your car, and you leave your driveway, guess what?" says the captain. "Concrete was probably in a barge. The tires you're rolling on, the petroleum to make them was in a barge. Asphalt... that stuff was in a barge." He goes on to suggest that just about anything we can buy or use was once, in its original materials form, delivered somewhere by barge, and without these sometimes ugly carriers society would grind to a halt. Life as a captain or crew member has its insular pleasures: the men (and they are all men) aboard the Mary Parker submit to a rhythmic life of shift work with the hum of a powerful boat engine beneath their feet. Powell quickly recognizes that not a lot happens aboard a barge, aside from tasks designed to keep a lot of barges from drifting apart or crashing together. The workers live simply and leave behind domestic problems at home while on month-long trips. And the possibility for advancement is real: a six-figure income is not out of line for a veteran worker with a high school diploma. Powell doesn't make any statement here, but he is a good cultural anthropologist telling the story of a little noticed cog in the global wheel of commerce. Recommended." - C, P. (T. Keogh) - Video Librarian
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