Tess is a foreman at a factory clearly cares about the workers she oversees, but also has to balance the demands of a boss who treats his staff unfairly, often shorting their pay.
But when an inspector from the Department of Labor comes in, the foreman has to weigh the opportunity to create a fair, more equitable workplace versus the possibility of closing down the factory and losing jobs. With no clear course and collateral damage guaranteed no matter what decision she makes, she faces a difficult dilemma that gives her no room for a clear conscience.
Writer-director Daniel Drummond’s short, powerful drama examines the tensions and fragile power lines that pull at working-class factory life. It’s also an incisive portrait of a person trying to make an ethical decision, in a situation where every choice has terrible consequences.
Grounded in a sense of authenticity that feels almost documentary-like, it offers a window into the tensions American factories face as they transition into a post-industrial age. Yet with naturalistic lighting and camerawork overseen by cinematographer Connor Vickers and a sound design that balances the whirs and noise of factories with an elegantly effective musical score, the short is undeniably well-crafted, each element adding to a story that quietly but inexorably ramps up the tension.
The film is anchored by a powerful, nuanced performance by lead actress Piercey Dalton, who brings an understated screenplay to life. She lets Tessa’s conflicting thoughts and feelings flicker across her face as Tessa clearly tries her best to appease everyone and advocate for the workers she oversees. But she’s torn between what she knows is right and what is expedient. Dalton’s face is increasingly weighed down by the situation, and when she’s faced with an untenable dilemma, she makes a life-altering choice.
Nominated for a 2017 Student Academy Award, “A Foreman” is resolutely un-melodramatic, but it effectively dramatizes what it means to live and act with integrity in a world where there is nothing but shades of gray. Focused on character and committed to authenticity, the film gains its power by narrowing its scope to one pressure cooker of a decision, effectively playing it out almost entirely in real-time within the inner life of a pivotal character. There are no easy answers for our foreman — or for an endangered sector of American life in general — and at the end of the story, there are also no more illusions that there ever could be.