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Ross McElwee Jr.
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This film documents the coal miners' strike against the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. Eastovers refusal to sign a contract (when the miners joined with the United Mine Workers of America) led to the strike, which lasted more than a year and included violent battles between gun-toting company thugs/scabs and the picketing miners and their supportive women-folk. Director Barbara Kopple puts the strike into perspective by giving us some background on the historical plight of the miners and some history of the UMWA. Written by
Martin Lewison <email@example.com>
When filming began, the film was intended to be about the 1972 campaign by Arnold Miller and Miners For Democracy to unseat UMWA president Tony Boyle, in the aftermath of Joseph Yablonski's murder; but the Harlan County strike began and caused the filmmakers to change their principal subject, with the campaign and murder becoming secondary subjects. See more »
'There's blood upon your contract like vinegar in your wine...
...'cause there's one man dead on the Harlan County line'.
This is a powerful Oscar-winning documentary produced and directed by Barbara Kopple ('American Dream', 'Wild Man Blues'). It focuses on the men at the Brookside Mine in Harlan, Kentucky who, in the summer of 1973, voted to join the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Duke Power Company and its subsidiary, Eastover Mining Company, refused to sign the contract. The miners came out on a long strike, registered by Kopple with testimonies, backstories, archival footage, and music, particularly that of Hazel Dickens during the final credits.
The film's main strength resides in the sincerity of its emotional, political and sociological core without being overtly sentimental, and Kopple's way of testifying instead of exploiting the subjects. The miners and their wives are not depicted in old hillbilly stereotypes, but rather as hard-working human beings fighting for their basic rights ('together we stand, divided we fall').
Thirty years after the release of this documentary, five miners died in an explosion at Harlan County. When the film was shot, money was the bigger issue (industry profits rose 170% in 1975, but miner's wages rose only 4%); nowadays, however, safety is an even bigger issue. You'd think things would have been largely improved since then, but that's not really the case. 'Harlan County U.S.A.' is a remarkable documentary because it testifies and proposes solutions about a public struggle that shouldn't be overlooked, yet has been for such a long time, in the "land of the free and home of the brave".
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