Jihlava winner explores working lives of poorest

'The Limits of Work', photo: archive of Saša Uhlová

The top prize at this year’s Jihlava documentary festival went to a candid exploration of conditions in some of the Czech Republic’s worst-paid jobs.

Saša Uhlová in 'The Limits of Work', photo: archive of Saša Uhlová
The main Czech Joy award at the 21st Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival was won by The Limits of Work by 28-year-old director Apolena Rychlíková.

The documenary follows journalist Saša Uhlová as she goes undercover for six months to report on the often shocking conditions in some of worst-paid jobs in the country, including at a poultry plant and a waste sorting facility.

Speaking shortly after picking up the top prize, and the viewers’ award, at Saturday night’s Jihlava closing ceremony, director Rychlíková said The Limits of Work highlighted the plight of those who usually have no voice.

Apolena Rychlíková, photo: CTK
“It’s not a film about the fact that Saša Uhlová is suffering in some job. It’s a film that delivers a portrait of people that nobody has cared about for a long time. What surprised me in making it was how these people are frequently resigned and demotivated, but on the other hand how they fight to improve their lives. I don’t want to idealise them, though. I just think they have the right to live a dignified life – and that something should be done to make this possible.”

Saša Uhlová said she was initially inspired to report undercover on the working lives of the worst off by similar projects in other countries.

“We wanted to write about this subject, but those people refused to speak about their work. So this seemed like the only possibility… The most horrible moments were when they shouted at me in some job or were otherwise rude. It was also tough not seeing my children. Even though I was working in Prague, I tended to be there till late at night every day.”

As for what can be done to improve conditions for those at the bottom of the labour ladder, Apolena Rychlíková offered a number of suggestions.

'The Limits of Work', photo: archive of Saša Uhlová
“We could speak about how property is seized in bankruptcies. We could speak about raising the minimum wage. But first and foremost we need to discuss adherence to the Labour Code. What we who are considered the intellectual elite can contribute to society is greater support for those who are on its margins. These people really feel abandoned and it’s up to us to build a bridge of trust across all the social classes.”

According to the director, there has already been interest in The Limits of Work (which is part of Czech Television’s Czech Journal series) from other Visegrad states, where the worst off frequently suffer from similar hardships.