Length: 60:00 (film)
Access: Film (part 1; part 2; part 3)
Discussion (part 4; part 5; part 6; part 7; part 8)
Summary: This documentary, directed by Barry Alexander Brown, is based on the ethnographic fieldwork that sociologist Mitchell Duneier conducted for his seminal book, Sidewalk (1999). Framed in the film's introduction as an "epilogue" to the book, Brown offers a plot summary: "SIDEWALK chronicles the lives of primarily black homeless book vendors and magazine scavengers who ply their trade along 6th Avenue between 8th Street and Washington Place in New York City. By briefly comparing those book vendors with the history of book vending along the Seine in Paris, the film speaks to the efforts of North American and European societies to rid public space of the outcasts they have had a hand in producing. The film takes us into the social world of the people subsisting on the streets of New York by focusing on their work as street side booksellers, magazine vendors, junk dealers, panhandlers, and table watchers. The sidewalk becomes a site for the unfolding of these people living on the edge of society in order to give us a deeper understanding of how these individual's are able to survive. It also becomes a site for conflicts and solidarities that encompass the vendors and local residents. We followed half dozen vendors for most of this past decade. By the end of shooting the film, their lives had taken a myriad of routes..." Like other urban ethnographic films (e.g., here), Sidewalk would be excellent to show in an urban sociology course, as well as an introductory sociology class, as it engages core sociological concerns around race, poverty, homelessness, underground economies, interactions with police, and community support networks, among others. Ethnography professors might also find the film useful—the film opens with several screens of written text, describing the film as a "set of fieldnotes." There is also discussion of the film available online. One of these discussions entails Duneier's introductory lecture on ethnographic methods, in which two sidewalk vendors visit his class. Here Duneier presents his approach to doing ethnography, particularly within the context and medium of film. The other is a panel discussion about the film with Cornel West and Kim Hopper at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp