I watched The Callers specifically because I’ve always been a fan of Leroy Van Dyke’s song, “The Auctioneer” especially when sung by Johnny Cash. I expected the documentary to focus on the auctioneers and their calls. There is plenty of that, and the varied cadences are fascinating. It’s like listening to music.
But the director, Susan Sfarra, also studies the human condition, examining how auctioneers work the crowd, pitting people against each other and moving people from place to place like a herd of cattle. The caller’s job is to get as much money as possible for the seller, and they milk every last dime they can out of the buyers.
The Callers is also about the buyers and the sellers. The buyers are for the most part hooked like any gambler, and it brings some excitement to the film, “Will they get it? Will they win?” There is also some fascination with why people buy what they buy.
The sellers are mostly farm folk (much of the film is located in Pennsylvania Dutch country), and it is heartening to see that there are still people selling — and buying old farm equipment. When a hand-stitched quilt goes for over $5,000 it restores your belief in our value system.
Sometimes it’s nice to just spend a few hours enmeshed in a little-known subculture, with people who are still living a simple way of life. It doesn’t hurt that the film is sprinkled with some good-natured rivalry and a good sense of humor.