"It's all pepe, all the time."
Secondhand (Pepe) is a 24min tri-lingual documentary about the role of used clothing in diaspora cultures. Filmmakers Shell & Bertozzi weave two narratives into a visual and sonic journey. The historical memoir of a Jewish immigrant rag picker intertwines with the present-day story of “pepe” – secondhand clothing that flows from the United States to Haiti. Secondhand (Pepe) animates the materiality of recycled clothes: their secret afterlives and the unspoken connections among people in an era of globalization.
Interested in seeing our movie?
If you are an educational institution, please see our distributor, ThirdWorldNewsreel (twn.org). If you are an individual who wants to buy the DVD, see Vanessa's Etsy shop. If you want to get in touch with the filmmakers, email vanbertozzi(a)gmail.com & email@example.com.
In the early 1900s, immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe collected, sorted, and sold secondhand clothing. As the Jewish peddlers made their way through North American city streets, they called out “Rags, Bones, Bottles!” Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the used clothing industry has gone global. Billions of pounds go to developing nations each year. Used American clothes play an especially central role in Haiti where, as one peddler reveals, “It’s all pepe, all the time.”
Dreamlike visuals and ethereal sounds intermix the beats of Jewish klezmer and Haitian rara music. Luke Fischbeck (Lucky Dragons) has composed the soundtrack of the film with an artful and nuanced ear, emphasizing the ruptures and looped connections among diasporic cultures. Secondhand (Pepe)'s two stories converge as American castoffs travel from the memoir reader's rag factory overseas to Haiti. As pepe makes its way to Port-au-Prince, passing through an intricate network of peddlers, seamstresses and entrepreneurs, the past recycles into the present.
The cultural-economic history of used clothing from the turn of the century to the current era of globalization is a story from the underground. Secondhand (Pepe) gives viewers a peek into secondhand subcultures–through engaging real people and archival materials—in an artful and amusing way.
Some of our themes include: Memories of the shmatte zamler (“rag men”) and textile peddling—and their relationship to Jews’ eventual rise to prominence in the garment industries; the contradictory functions of secondhand clothes (pepe) in Haitian culture and economy; the post-war shift to charitable collection agencies; and the role of language and clothing in informal economies and the global exchange of culture.
Secondhand (Pepe) follows the memoir of a Jewish ragman, which links viewers to the history of Eastern European Jewish immigrants at the turn of the 20th-century. Bill Schapiro, a fourth generation ragman, kindly shared his grandfather Bernard Schapiro's memoir, which we adapted for the screen. A Haitian-American radio DJ, Yvon Lamour, hosts a collective of voices discussing the etymology of "pepe" (the Haitian Creole word for used foreign goods). In fact, the two eras—past and present—and the two cultures—Jewish and Haitian—collide when the used clothing industry goes global around mid-century. Voices of exile reminisce and recycle the past into present, across diaspora cultures.
"Shell and Bertozzi's film, Secondhand (Pepe), is an imaginative rendering of the ways dispossessed peoples make use of the discarded clothing of a dominant culture. The film makes wonderful use of sound design, live action, old movies, and a Chris Marker-esque belief in the interconnectedness of things to show us how the forgotten clothes in one culture re-surface as fashion opportunities in another. Traveling along an energetic and associative editing scheme, the film not only tracks the secondhand clothing business, but gently allows us to think about the ways the past is re-cycled into the present, especially how detritus from the first world is worn into the imaginative fabric of the third world. A compelling piece of filmmaking."—Robb Moss (The Same River Twice, The Tourist)
a thrift-store, almost every item is one-of-a kind. By virtue of wear, tear
and style, each piece has a story uniquely its own.
To use a textile metaphor: The “firsthand” clothes economy—traceable via financial statements, trade records and newspapers’ business and style sections—suggests the neat design of repeating shapes and hues on the outside of a patterned acrylic sweater. But turn the sweater inside-out and the secondhand story begins to reveal itself. For behind those tidy, predictable, embedded snowflake patterns, is a maelstrom of asymmetrical shapes and blended yarns. This—the garment’s usually hidden scaffolding—evokes the knotty networks of the people, places and things of Secondhand (Pepe).
|© Fabrik Films 2007|