Feature Documentary Reviews

Call Me Intern (2019) – 5 stars

Directors: Nathalie Berger, Leo David Hyde

Writers: Leo David Hyde, Nathalie Berger

Running time: 1 hour 5 mins

“If you can get people to work for free, why wouldn’t you?”

It’s the con that the majority of Millennials and members of Generation Z are firmly and infuriatingly acquainted with. Work that could and should be paid for is performed for no pay, on the basis the “experience” it provides them with will strengthen their CV and lead to gainful employment in the future. And of course, to add insult to injury, this is a mantra extolled almost exclusively by comfortable middle-aged, middle-class, white men, who were privileged enough to get their feet under the table having never been asked to lift a finger for free.

Even so, there seems to be little that those being exploited by this practice can do about it. Without permanent roles, they do not even have the severely weakened employment rights afforded to most workers – meaning, “if you rock the boat, you’re done.” So should we just grin and bear it?

Hell, no! Not if Nathalie Berger and Leo David Hyde have anything to say about it, anyway. Their tub-thumping call-to-arms of a documentary not only aims to show the often shocking realities of life as an intern, but also how a growing movement is assembling to take on the fat cats championing it. Call Me Intern is that most important of things – a film that remains grounded in the idea life will go on after the final shot has faded to black; a documentary that seeks to mobilise its audience after the credits have rolled.

This is something which shines through in the Directors’ statement sent out with the film. The duo stated, “We saw many of our friends financially barred from these unpaid ‘opportunities’ and others finding themselves abused – year long unpaid stints or mistreatment from their supervisors. Everyone was talking about the issue – but it seemed few were actually doing something about it.”

As also outlined in the film, Berger and Hyde resolved to do something about this. Arming themselves with embellished CVs, cover letters and application forms, as well as a camera and a small blue tent, the pair set out to examine the system through “gonzo-journalism.”

Initially, having reviewed independent documentaries before, I was afraid this premise would be interesting, but poorly executed. Often a Director at this end of the food-chain will allow their ambition to out-strip their abilities or apparatus.  In the end, however, I was pleasantly surprised by this sharp, finely tuned film, which allowed the audience to go on a clearly defined and impactful journey with the filmmakers, investing great interest in their message in the process.

Even the most formally capable documentarian needs a little luck too though, and sometimes unless something just falls into your lap, you can be left with a technically sound lump of nothing. Fortunately for Berger and Hyde, after filming their efforts to acquire an internship for some time, they were presented with something of a golden ticket, as Hyde lands an unpaid internship at the United Nations! He is asked to report for duty within a week, but only after he has confirms he can fully cover all of his expenses. All. The. Expenses. That is the world’s largest and most powerful international body asking an unpaid intern to cover their own costs for visa, housing, health insurance, food and transportation.

Alongside Hyde’s move to a tent in Geneva, we hear from Kyle and Marisa, former interns who talk about their experiences with unpaid roles. Similar to Hyde, they have landed big gigs: Kyle would work for Warner Music – a dream that came true – and Marisa for no other than Barack Obama and his 2012 campaign. They kicked it off with excitement, dreaming of all the opportunities that this small detail in their CV would land on their laps, ready to prove that all this debt in college education had been totally worth it. However, reality is cruel. Rent needs to be paid and it appears that there is something about interns, that makes them not only subject to harassment, but also disposable.

They host experts explaining everything, from the beginning of interns to today, what has gone wrong in the capitalist society and why youth has become disposable when it comes to labour. Kyle and Marisa are forced to exit after personal events with high impact on one’s well-being and misconduct in the work space. Hyde unveils the hypocrisy of the UN when he and Berger reach out to the media. “We are not allowed to pay interns.” Uhm, what? Says who, the United Nations?!

It is very common that young filmmakers decide to put themselves on the spotlight and film a specific moment in their lives, yet those two manage to isolate an occasion that my generation shares in common: struggling to find paid work in spite of a supposed “skills shortage” in the global labour market. They question the system and they do it in such a way, that I highly doubt the status-quo will get it. “Entitled Millennials” would probably be the response. But, who cares? This film is not a begging piece – having uncovered the hypocrisy of even liberal entities on the matter, it is clear change will not come from the top down. Call Me Intern is about galvanising young workers into action, inspiring them to fight back, and to win. 

Being an arts graduate and having given up on my field out of necessity (rent does need to be paid), I am very happy to have watched Call Me Intern. The two filmmakers and their stunt have helped trigger action around the world, educating youth on their rights as interns, and empowering them to fight and change the system. This is gonzo journalism to do Hunter S. Thompson proud.

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