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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 »
Barbara Kopple's 1976 documentary "Harlan County USA" remains one of the finest portraits of the struggle between faceless and greedy corporations and the employees who work themselves to the bone to eke out a living. The film deals with a coal miner's strike in a small Kentucky town during the early 70s. These seemingly insurmountable odds to strike up agreements between the company and the union in this Harlan County town dip back as far as a bloody battle there during the 1930s.
The miners and the picketers are captured via a well-maintained cinema verite style to the point that much of the early dialogue in the film is indiscernible and lingers there only as a means to introduce the tone. Music plays a key role in the emotional impact of this gritty film as well. Considering it takes place in the Bluegrass State, it comes as no surprise that so many of the most intense moments in the film carry with them a heart-wrenching rendition of roots music, most of which pertain specifically to coal mining.
"Harlan County USA" removes the presumptions that such human atrocities are far gone memories of America's past, and would pave the way for other important pro-workers rights films as "Norma Rae", "Silkwood", and "Matewan".
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