Broke (the Pawn Shop Documentary)

“Broke” is like a gritty mash-up of a pawn shop reality show and a heartfelt buddy drama.

A grouchy pawn shop owner in Edmonton hires an ex-con (and psychopath?) Chris Hoard as his assistant.

They make for a compelling duo.

It’s a raw, unvarnished peek into survival, friendship, and the human spirit on the edge.

I love this kind of story — enjoy!

Trailer for “Broke”

Watch “Broke”

I watched “Broke” for free on YouTube but that link is no longer available.

I was psyched to find Broke on at:

Here are all the links I see to stream “Broke”:

You can find the latest streaming options: (note: it says that carries the Broke doc but I followed the link and didn’t see it).


  • My Rating: 97/100
  • IMDB Rating: 8/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Ratings: na

Release Date: It was first screened at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival/Date (Apr 30, 2009 to May 10, 2009); its first public airing was March 3, 2010 on TVOntario’s documentary series The View from Here.

Review of “Broke”

“Broke” is a special documentary the life of David Woolfson, the owner of a pawn shop called A1 Trading in Edmonton, Alberta.

Woolfson, a tough Jewish merchant originally from South Africa, has been running his shop for nearly 16 years. His establishment serves as a crucial financial lifeline for the down-and-out folks of Edmonton’s gritty inner city.

David Woolfson is a complex character. He’s described as bone-hard but also deeply connected to the community he serves.

Woolfson is a hard-core dealer (he drives a hard bargain).

But you also see his human side:

Sometimes Woolfson buys something he knows is stolen. He calls the police about the potential stolen good, but if they can’t immediately come down he’ll agree to buy the product and then try to find the original owner (the one who had it stolen) to sell it back to him (at the same price).

His pawn shop is more than a business; it’s a sanctuary for the desperate. He offers small loans in exchange for possessions.

Woolfson doesn’t need to run the shop for financial reasons; he does it to stay engaged and avoid the monotony of retirement.

His interactions with customers reveal a mix of empathy and strict business acumen.

One day, Chris Hoard, an ex-convict, walks into the shop and offers his help. Hoard volunteers his time, bringing a new dynamic to the pawn shop.

The unlikely friendship that develops between Woolfson and Hoard becomes the central theme of the doc.

Hoard is a sweet but troubled individual with a checkered past.

Despite their differences, Woolfson takes on a fatherly role, mentoring Hoard and teaching him the ropes of the pawn business. Their relationship adds depth to the narrative.

Director Rosie Dransfeld employs a cinema verite style to capture the raw and unfiltered reality of life in the pawn shop. The film’s candid approach provides an intimate glimpse into the day-to-day operations and the lives of the shop’s customers.

Dransfeld’s camera doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of poverty, addiction, and desperation that are part of the pawn shop’s environment.

The 77-minute doc shines a light on the socio-economic struggles faced by many Edmonton residents.

Woolfson’s shop becomes a microcosm of the broader issues in the community. Customers come in with stories that range from heartbreaking to hopeful.

One woman pawns her wedding ring to pay rent. A young man sells his bike for gas money.

These transactions highlight the dire straits people find themselves in and the essential role the pawn shop plays in their lives.

Woolfson’s gruff exterior masks a deeply empathetic soul.

He listens to his customers’ stories, often offering advice along with financial help. His tough-love approach is evident when he negotiates deals.

He balances compassion with the need to maintain his business. His relationship with Hoard adds a layer of complexity to the narrative.

Hoard, learning the business, also brings his own set of challenges and emotional baggage. Dransfeld captures this with sensitivity.

The film doesn’t just focus on the transactions. It delves into the personal lives of Woolfson and Hoard.

Woolfson reflects on the tough realities of his work. He often confides in Hoard.

Their banter is both entertaining and revealing, showcasing the depth of their bond. Hoard, despite his troubled past, looks up to Woolfson.

He values the mentorship he receives. This dynamic adds a poignant touch to the film.

It illustrates how two very different people can find common ground and mutual respect. “Broke” also includes interviews with Woolfson.

He discusses the pawn business and the people it serves. His insights are candid and sometimes harsh, but always honest.

He talks about the hidden struggles of poverty:

“You don’t see it in your rarified living conditions, you don’t see how the poor people live, unless you come here.

Tragic some of it.”

This statement encapsulates the documentary’s essence. It highlights the stark realities that many face daily.

The documentary’s cinematography by Sergio Olivares enhances its raw and immersive feel. The close-up shots and unfiltered footage pull you into the world of A1 Trading.

Scott Parker’s editing maintains the film’s pace. Each scene adds to the narrative’s depth.

The music by Louis Sedmark and Van Wilmott subtly underscores the emotional weight of the story without getting in the way of the story.

“Broke” received critical acclaim for its honest portrayal of the lives of those on the economic margins.

It won the prestigious Donald Brittain Award for Best Social-Political Documentary of 2010. This is a testament to its impact and relevance.

The film’s ability to blend humor, pathos, and stark reality makes it a powerful piece of cinema verite.

Dransfeld’s masterful direction and the film’s authentic portrayal make “Broke” a must-watch for anyone interested in the socio-economic realities of urban life.

But more importantly it tells the stories of people struggling to survive. It shows the unlikely bonds that form in the most unexpected places.

“Broke” is a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of community support, no matter how unconventional it might be.

In the end, Woolfsin admits his wife is “very ill” andhas to sell his business to spend time with her.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc