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Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick co-directed “The Hand That Feeds,” a documentary about a group of workers in a New York bakery who risked deportation and unemployment to unionize and fight for better conditions. For our 15th Annual Human Rights Film Series, Lears and Blotnick came to the Center to teach a master class and to talk to us about their experiences on the picket lines. Watch the interview below (transcript available here) and visit to learn more.

“The Hand That Feeds”

At a popular bakery café, residents of New York’s Upper East Side get bagels and coffee served with a smile 24 hours a day. But behind the scenes, undocumented immigrant workers face sub-legal wages, dangerous machinery, and abusive managers who will fire them for calling in sick. Mild-mannered sandwich maker Mahoma López has never been interested in politics, but in January 2012, he convinces a small group of his co-workers to fight back.

Risking deportation and the loss of their livelihood, the workers team up with a diverse crew of innovative young organizers and take the unusual step of forming their own independent union, launching themselves on a journey that will test the limits of their resolve. In one roller-coaster year, they must overcome a shocking betrayal and a two-month lockout. Lawyers will battle in back rooms, Occupy Wall Street protesters will take over the restaurant, and a picket line will divide the neighborhood. If they can win a contract, it will set a historic precedent for low-wage workers across the country. But whatever happens, Mahoma and his coworkers will never be exploited again. [Official Website]

Rachel Lears

Rachel_LearsRachel’s award-winning first feature doc “Birds of Passage” (2010) was supported by Fulbright and the National Film Institute of Uruguay, had two community screening tours of Uruguay sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Culture, and was broadcast nationally throughout Latin America. Her ongoing video art collaborations with artist Saya Woolfalk have screened at numerous galleries and museums worldwide since 2008. She also holds a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from NYU. Her doctoral research on media and cultural policy in Uruguay was supported by grants from Fulbright-Hays and the American Council of Learned Societies/ Mellon Foundation, and she has written about culture and politics for In These Times magazine. Rachel was a 2013 Sundance Creative Producing Fellow for her new film “The Hand That Feeds,” which has picked up press acclaim and won awards at several festivals including Full Frame and AFI Docs, and will broadcast on PBS in 2015. [Jubilee Films]

Robin Blotnick

Robin_BlotnickA product of backwoods Maine, Robin has worked in motion picture development, and as a freelance editor of everything from cage-fighting matches to celebrity home movies. His first documentary, “Chocolate Country,” received a Grand Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival, was a winner in LinkTV’s ViewChange competition, and is used as a teaching tool by educators and Fair Trade advocates around the world. His feature documentary debut, “Gods and Kings,” tells a strange story of masks, magic, and mass media in the highlands of Guatemala. It won the Intangible Culture Prize at the RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Films (Scotland, 2013) and was the opening night film at Ethnocineca (Austria, 2014). Robin is a 2013 Sundance Creative Producing Fellow for his new film “The Hand That Feeds,” which has picked up press acclaim and awards at several festivals, including Full Frame and AFI Docs, and will broadcast on PBS in 2015. [Jubilee Films]

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