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It's A Funny Business


The Streetsweeper: A Movie of Sweeping Proportions

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
The Streetsweeper Movie Poster

Last December, I was among those at the National Pavement Expo West who attended a sneak preview of James Hill's movie, "The Streetsweeper." The screening event, held in Las Vegas and sponsored by Schwarze Industries, Inc., on behalf of naPSa, was a resounding success.

The movie centers around the life of an Italian opera-singing street sweeper operator in San Diego who, although talented enough to have considered a full-time musical career as an opera singer, gave up the capricious life of an artist after the birth of his son, Joey. To keep a promise to his dying wife that Joey will make it through college (not just any college, but Harvard!) he takes a job driving one of the City of San Diego's old Elgin Eagle sweepers on a regular sweeping route. Those in sweeping will no doubt thoroughly enjoy the interplay between the San Diego sweeper operators, and the numerous shots of the city's sweepers in action.

Throughout the movie, the story line throws the glaring light of the media on another growing problem: the inherent conflict between a compassionate society that wants to love even its most downtrodden members—the homeless—and that same society's need to organize and police itself and keep its streets clean and livable.

Sundance Film Festival

Opening night at Sundance Film Festival. Driver is Debbie Jacketta, of Jacketta Sweeping Services.

The conflict is brought to life in Hill's film through his lead character, Enzo Morelli, played to perfection by Broadway veteran Paul Michael in his motion-picture debut. Though little known to movie audiences, Michael, now 78, has had a distinguished theater career. He made his Broadway debut opposite the legendary Judy Holliday in the hit musical "Bells are Ringing" before moving on to "Tovarich" (opposite Vivien Leigh), "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and numerous others. A trained opera singer, he is perhaps best know for playing Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" in over 1,000 performances around the country.

In fact, it was Michael's opera training that inspired Hill to make Enzo Morelli not just a power sweeper operator, but an opera-singing one. Morelli sings to himself in the shower in the morning, and then blares his beloved Italian opera through loudspeakers mounted on the side of his sweeper as he sings and sweeps along. The story line also offers insight into the camaraderie that exists in most large sweeping organizations, although actual street sweeper operators would consider the placement of a loudspeaker on a sweeper roof an example of 'operatic license.'

This movie is the first ever to offer a glimpse into the sweeping industry.

In the surprise ending to Hill's story, inspired by actual incidents in San Diego where Hill maintains a home, Paul Michael's character, Morelli, ultimately must confront a down-to-earth choice: What does a man who's devoted his career to keeping the streets safe do when the people who live there resist? Venerable industry publication Boxoffice Magazine's film critic, Wade Major, notes that audiences "are completely shaken by the twists and turns the story takes," and commends Paul Michael for giving "an Oscar-worthy performance."

In the end, Morelli's biggest ally turns out to be the local policeman himself, portrayed by Laurence Hilton Jacobs, known as "Washington" in the '70s TV sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter." "He just does an incredible job," says Hill.

Since the NPE West showing, Hill has been recruiting financial backers to enable him to release the show throughout the United States. This October 1st, part of Hill's dream will come true when the movie opens simultaneously in the major market areas of Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Hill has facilitated other individual debuts, each accompanied by at least one sweeper provided by a prominent sweeping contractor in each locale. One of these events was held near New York's Lincoln Center, with a sweeper provided by John Dubbioso of 3-D Sweeping. Mark Carter, of Bill's Sweeping in Orange County, provided a sweeper for several Hollywood-based screenings. When the film won Best Picture during the Los Angeles-based Italian Film Awards, Carter even ended up placing the sweeper in the theater's outer lobby. Debbie Jacketta, of Salt Lake's Jacketta Sweeping Service brought the sweeper for Sundance.

The biggest sweeper event so far took place in Kansas City, MO, last June. Gale Holsman, owner of American Sweeping, Inc., arranged for the movie to be screened in the Cinemark Theater at Kansas City's prestigious Country Club Plaza. At 5:30 in the afternoon, Holsman organized a parade of 11 sweepers that drove about a dozen blocks to the front of the theater. The star of the movie, Paul Michael and his wife, actress Marion Ross, (of TV's Happy Days fame) along with "look-alikes" of President Bush and Kramer from Seinfeld led the parade in a horse drawn carriage.

Holsman said "The parade brought many people out to the street, all the way to the theater. Inside, the support for the movie was fantastic, and the ending created a large amount of discussion among those in attendance. It is a well done, thought-provoking movie that also shows what it's like to be on the job in a street sweeper. Anyone in sweeping should definitely go see it if they get the opportunity."

Sweeper Parade

Gale Holsman, owner of American Sweeping, Inc., arranged for the movie to be screened in the Cinemark Theater at Kansas City's prestigious Country Club Plaza. At 5:30 in the afternoon, Holsman organized a parade of 11 sweepers that traveled about a dozen blocks to the front of the theater.

Due to the strong support the movie has received by the sweeping community, the sweeper parade concept is one Hill proposes to continue with in the major market previews. "We have had a fantastic response from the people in sweeping," Hill said. "They are a segment of the population who perform a Herculean duty in keeping our country clean, but are little recognized for their efforts. You will also find this to be an underlying theme in "The Streetsweeper" movie.

"The plan is to organize a parade of sweepers for each of our openings. We are also investigating the concept of putting banners onto sweepers in our premiere areas, as a way to inform the public about the movie and, at the same time, draw their attention to sweepers that are on the job. We even plan on having radio contests in each premiere city where the winner will ride to the opening night screening, and then to dinner, in a chauffeured sweeper."

Early test market audiences for "The Streetsweeper" have responded beyond the producer's wildest dreams. "They get it. Quite frankly, they've been wildly enthusiastic! From high falutin' opera fans to the everyday working people like the street sweeper operators themselves, they all realize that this is a real story, about real people, and that the plot line could happen to anyone.

Hill says he could never have made a film as ambitious as "The Streetsweeper" for his $1 million budget without the total cooperation of the Street Sweeping Division of San Diego's office of General Services. "Without them, it would be nothing. Honestlywithout saying we're the same sort of movie, could you imagine "Top Gun" without the F-14s? Well, these magnificent sweeping machines, some of which happen to be called 'Top Guns,' fulfill the same function for us!"

The compliment was returned by Public Works Supervisor, Leon Sauls, of San Diego's Street Division. "Hill," said Sauls, "got it exactly correct. sweeper operators are often the first people citizens encounter in the morning and, if you're downtown for dinner, say, the last people you see at night. Moreover, power sweeper drivers are considered top-of-the-line civil servants, which means that, like Enzo Morelli in "The Streetsweeper," it becomes a lifetime occupation. Because turnover is small, sweeper drivers work the same streets year after year. Oftentimes, they are the ones that notice newspapers piling up outside an elderly person's home and call the medics to report a potential problem, saving a life.

"Like a good neighborhood watch, they are often the first ones to notice strangers casing a house or business and are able to notify police before a crime is committed. Of course, they're also the ones who have your car ticketed if it's parked in their way—but that's a small price to pay for a clean city. As community policing advocates Mayor Bloomberg in New York and Los Angeles police chief William Bratton point out, in big cities, it is in stopping small things like litter and graffiti that ultimately gives a community the pride it requires to take on the bigger problems like gangs and drugs."

This movie is the first ever to offer a glimpse into the sweeping industry. If you happen to live in one of the market areas where "The Streetsweeper" will premiere, there's no doubt you'll want to go see the film. While you're at it, gather up a carload of your friends and neighbors to take along, so they can have a better idea of what street sweeping is all about. You will also find additional information at the movie's website, www.thestreetsweeper.com.

"The Streetsweeper" is a story of the triumph of the human heart over adversity. Although the movie provides a great level of entertainment, it also brings the industry into the spotlight—which is seldom even considered by most people—even though the personnel and equipment in it are responsible for the removal of hundreds of thousands of tons of pollutants, litter and debris from America's paved surfaces every year.

If you need proof that the movie has already fostered some change in our industry, all one has to do is call the San Diego Street Division and ask to talk to the current sweeper supervisor Sauls, a key advisor to Hill on the movie, along with former supervisors, Dave Lamar and Bill Tamargo. While you are placed on hold, the voicemail plays Italian opera!

James Hill has truly been inspired by the reception he and his film have been given by the American Sweeping Community. Hill invites all sweeper owners and operators to join in and share the experience of sweeping this film into the hearts of all Americans. If you want to know more, or get more involved, log onto the movie's website at www.thestreetsweeper.com. On the site you can order posters suitable for putting on the side of your sweeper in conjunction with when the movie comes to your locale.

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, Volume 9 Number 2, 2004.

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