EIFF film review: The Gig Is Up
Harsh economic reality8
Direction and insight8
Matthew Turner | On 22, Aug 2021
Director: Shannon Walsh
With: Jason Edwards, Al Aloudi, Annette Rivera, Prayag Negula, Derek Thompson
Where to watch The Gig Is Up online in the UK: EIFF 2021
This film is streaming as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. For more information on the line-up and how it works, click here.
Billing itself as “a very human tech doc”, The Gig Is Up reveals the harsh economic reality of our tech-enabled society, profiling the exploited workers responsible for driving our Ubers, bringing us our Deliveroo meals or delivering our Amazon packages. The result is a sobering and frequently depressing documentary that will have you wincing with guilt throughout.
Directed by Canadian filmmaker Shannon Walsh, the film includes interviews with authors, journalists and tech experts, alongside multiple to-camera contributions from gig economy workers. The latter are presented like Instagram Stories, subtly underlining that they’re never allowed to be too far from their phones, lest they miss a work alert. The film uses that familiar tech packaging elsewhere too, having a number of facts and figures pop up on screen like tweets.
Walsh also spends time with a handful of chosen subjects from around the world, returning to them repeatedly as they struggle to make ends meet. These include: San Francisco Uber drivers Al Aloudi and Annette Rivera, who have started protesting in order to gain workers rights (“Uber! Uber! Now it’s over!”); French delivery driver Leila Ouadad, whose friend was recently severely hospitalised while on a job, with no compensation from the company; and the film’s most colourful character, gold-toothed 36 year old Mims, Florida native Jason Edwards, who makes a living doing online surveys and looks after his scratchcard-addicted mother.
Repeatedly, the same patterns emerge, as the tech companies lure in customers with low prices and discounts, while initially offering their workers high salaries. Then, once the company takes off, the salaries plummet, leaving the workers completely without rights and scrambling for every available gig.
The film is also illuminating when it comes to the more underhanded practices, such as paying keen, readily available workers less (because they’re already willing to work), or immediately dismissing delivery drivers just because a customer complains about a spilled coffee.
At a certain point, it really does start to look like modern-day slavery, especially in the case of a company that recruits workers for on-demand data entry tasks that computers are unable to do. There’s a chilling moment when a loud alarm goes off mid-interview and the worker explains that that means he has to start the job within five minutes or else.
The global scope of the film pays off beautifully in the film’s best sequence, when photographer Wu Guoyong takes us on a tour of Shenzhen’s bicycle graveyards, where tens of thousands of instant rental bikes have been dumped, following the collapse of several rival companies. The images are stunning and shocking, but they make an important point about the race to platform dominance and its concurrent casualties.
Finally, since Walsh hadn’t yet finished shooting by March 2020, the film explores the devastating impact of the global pandemic on its various subjects, from the eerie strangeness of Al Aloudi driving across an empty Bay Bridge in San Francisco to examples of heart-breaking loss. All that rather puts a downer on the film’s otherwise upbeat closing credits, a Zoom-style singalong of a song called People, People by musician Laurel Sprengelmeyer, aka Little Scream.
The Gig Us Up is available to rent at the Edinburgh International Film Festival until 5.30pm on Monday 23rd August. Book tickets here.