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Steve James

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director's Note

“I was thrilled to be included in this ambitious series of films because they address a real lack of understanding on behalf of most of us about the economy and how it works. For me, tackling ‘minimum wage’ held special interest. I am someone who did minimum wage jobs up until I was nearly 30 years old, and haven’t forgotten what a struggle it was to make a living on such a low wage. And the recent very public and contentious debate over raising the minimum wage has made it an issue that many people have now heard about, but too few feel they fully understand. 

We decided that we would center 'The Value of Work' around the debate and legislation that was passed in Seattle in 2013 because what happened there was historic - the city became ground zero for the issue and has spurred a movement that continues to sweep the country. At the same time, it was important to hear from both opponents and proponents of substantially increasing the minimum wage, including politicians and business leaders. Most importantly, we wanted to hear from the workers themselves. To give them and small business owners a place of real prominence in the film. 

So we made a decision to film them in a studio setting where we could both interview them and photograph them, with the hope of capturing their dignity and struggles. I was aided by two very talented shooters - Dana Kupper, my longtime DP on many films, and my good friend, photographer Kevin Horan, whose past work photographing everyday people inspired the idea. I was struck by how thoughtful and eloquent the workers were even in such brief interviews. They really do emerge as the heart of the film.”

Short Biography

STEVE JAMES is best known as the Oscar-nominated director of “Hoop Dreams,” and has since become one of the most acclaimed documentary makers of his generation, with works including “Stevie,” “The New Americans,” “The War Tapes,” “At the Death House Door,” and “The Interrupters.” “Hoop Dreams” won every major critics award in 1994 as well as a Peabody and Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1995. The film earned James the Directors Guild of America Award and the MTV Movie Award for "Best New Filmmaker." Recently, “Hoop Dreams” was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, signifying the film’s enduring importance to American film history, and was hailed by critic Roger Ebert as “the great American documentary.” His latest film, “Life Itself,” about the life of Roger Ebert, premiered at Sundance 2014. Steve is now at work on “Generation Food,” a collaboration with author Raj Patel about solutions to fixing the broken global food system.

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