Film

The Sanitation Worker Who Finds Stories in What the Deceased Leave Behind

The short film A Garbage Story follows Nick DiMola as he cleans the debris from the homes of the deceased and departed in New York.

Still from <em>A Garbage Story</em> (courtesy rota6)
Still from A Garbage Story (courtesy rota6)

“Anything that’s old that could tell a story is something I want to save,” says Nick DiMola in A Garbage Story, a short documentary on his work in clearing the possessions and trash left behind in the homes of the deceased and the departed. Directed by Olivier Bernier and produced by Patrick Solomon, the film is part of a new New York Stories series of short profiles from the Brooklyn-based Rota6.

The documentary was recently screened at DOC NYC and the Coney Island Film Festival, and is planned for an online release in 2018. A Garbage Story is a compact narrative at just eight minutes, taking viewers into one of the homes where DiMola is discarding a man’s belongings that have become debris. After family members pass through, these estates are usually left for the landfill. But DiMola sees his career as more than solely cleanup, as he plucks precious and ordinary objects from the waste. Back at the headquarters of the DiMola Bros demolition and rubbish removal company in Ridgewood, Queens, he has a veritable museum constructed from these discoveries.

Some are rare — silver coins, Wedgwood porcelain — yet most are mundane. DiMola marvels at the artwork on a 1945 mothball can that was found in a closet, and a cluster of sugar cubes suspended from pink ribbons, a homemade corsage from the 1950s for a girl’s sweet 16 birthday. Slides discovered on a shelf recall the travel adventures of a man whose face is revealed in a dusty photograph. In DiMola’s shop, there are signs, trophies, photographs, and other mementos crowded on shelves and covering the walls and ceiling. Much like the Treasures in the Trash Museum in East Harlem, where sanitation worker Nelson Molina filled the second floor of a garage with items rescued from the Manhattan curb, DiMola has built a gallery of now anonymous lives lived. And although there’s a darkness in this work, DiMola finds joy in discovering the personal stories in what’s been deemed garbage.

“These dead people are giving me part of their life as a story,” DiMola says. “I can continue for as long as I live, and hopefully someone along the way can take it over and continue the story.”

Still from <em>A Garbage Story</em> (courtesy rota6)
Still from A Garbage Story (courtesy rota6)
Still from <em>A Garbage Story</em> (courtesy rota6)
Still from A Garbage Story (courtesy rota6)
Still from <em>A Garbage Story</em> (courtesy rota6)
Still from A Garbage Story (courtesy rota6)
Still from <em>A Garbage Story</em> (courtesy rota6)
Still from A Garbage Story (courtesy rota6)

A Garbage Story will be released online in 2018 from Rota6.

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