The Elevator Operator

An immigrant caught between his past and the American Dream
Year Released
Film Length(s)
8 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


The Elevator Operator is an intimate portrait of an immigrant forever caught between what he's left behind and his pursuit of the American Dream.

Featured review

This poignant film reveals the hopes and dreams that animate the lives of millions of recent immigrants who labor unnoticed all across America. It is a great pedagogical tool for college courses on work, labor and immigration.
Ruth Milkman
Professor of Sociology, UCLA


Shy and unassuming, Eugene shuttles passengers up and down in a manual elevator while he discusses his work, his emigration from Chernobyl, the joys of fatherhood and his recent US citizenship. In a moment of sadness, he wonders whether leaving his job as a journalist in Kiev was really worth it. Then he reassures himself, revealing his dream that some day his self-published novel will become a Hollywood blockbuster.

This poetic snapshot takes students of immigration, labor, sociology, political science, economics, social work and anthropology deep into the heart of the immigrant experience.


Jonathan Skurnik captures the daily life of a recent Ukranian emigre elevator operator where the profession was once synonymous with New York's vibrant working class. Ironically, while The Elevator Operator is an anachronistic throwback to glory days of workers in New York, Jonathan Skurnik's film reveals that the dreams and hopes of new immigrants to the city have not changed at all.
Immanuel Ness
Professor of Political Science, The City University of New York
Immigration has recently become synonymous with Mexico. The Elevator Operator is an important film because it challenges that stereotype through the story of an Ukranian immigrant, once a journalist in his own country, who works as an elevator operator in New York City. This story highlights the experience of thousands of professional immigrants who are forced to labor for low wages in jobs that don't make use of their skills.
Carolina Bank Munoz
Assistant Professor of Sociology, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Shambling and hangdog, the elevator operator's polite, soft voice and weary Baltic shrug are expressive both of his misfortune and his hope for the future. Clearly sad to have left his home, he remains up beat about his decision to become an American and Skurnik's film has a wonderful light touch that neither glamourises nor patronises him. It's a perfectly formed documentary.
Ben Blaine
Shooting People Film Curator

Awards and Screenings

WNET (PBS) Broadcast on Reel NY, 2006
Opening Night Screening at the Maryland Film Festival, 2006
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, 2006
DocuFest Atlanta Film Festival, 2006
Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival, 2006
National Broadcast on Ukrainian Public Television, 2006

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • DVD Extras
  • Transcript

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

Resources for Educators

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