The documentary “The Hand That Feeds” follows workers in the country illegally who risk deportation to protest working conditions at a deli in hoity-toity Upper East Side Manhattan.
At the 2nd Avenue Hot & Crusty, workers said they were not paid minimum wage or overtime and that the owner would not repair a broken meat slicer, among other complaints. But they were powerless to negotiate without first forming a union. Workers said their efforts faced resistance from a risen-through-the-ranks manager and fellow employees hired via nepotism; the proprietor then played hardball and threatened to shutter the deli.
Unfortunately, directors Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick have squandered a worthy subject. The film barely substantiates the hardships of workers and does not put their quality of life into any kind of statistical perspective. When the employer declined an interview, the filmmakers could have — but apparently didn’t — reach out to unaffiliated legal or labor experts for comment. Instead, we get lots of blurred-out signs, unnamed parties, first-name-only interviewees, pointless establishing shots and a manipulative score.
The filmmakers regrettably make lighthearted digressions (like an impromptu performance by a hipster banjo player) and allow white legal volunteers and Occupy Wall Street protesters to hijack the restaurant workers’ story.
“The Hand That Feeds.”
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.