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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 »
The clarity and portrayal in Harlan County of the hideous strikes makes the audience feel involved. Surrounded by beautiful nature and hollows, poverty and living conditions flip the picture. In this particular film by Barbara Kopple, her crew follows around the coal miners and their families around the clock. There is not anytime of day where a song is being sung or gun shots are being fired not caught on camera. Kopple's depiction of women and use of sound makes this documentary distinct for its time. In the mid 60's, civil rights and liberties was a huge issue. Eventually the Civil Rights Act of 1963 was passed and America was slowly evolving into a new nation. During the strikes in Harlan Country, women played a big role to help and on screen. Kopple dedicated a good amount of footage to the emergence of women taking a stand and being strong. Around the time of this strike, women were not portrayed as they were on screen thorough the documentary. In one particular picket stand, a car was rolled in the middle of a main road surrounded by women protesting. The sheriff told them repeatedly to clear the road, but they did not move an inch. The women organization during the strike did not become vulnerable once presenting a new image. By the camera shooting close-ups of women's faces during their meetings and protests, the audience can really feel the power and anger they had alone. As the documentary unfolds, the use of music played a major role. Through out the whole presentation, the songs heard described key events that took place during the strike. When studies were shown how black dust from coal kills your lungs, many small scenes showed the coal miners having trouble breathing. During this segment, a depressing song about black dust accompanied each powerful image. Many involved during these hard times composed songs of their feelings and emotions which Kopple caught on screen and included in many shots. The documentary starts the film with an elderly man singing a slow depressing song setting the harsh tone. By the end of the documentary, songs of victory and happiness accompany the images. Including the songs throughout the whole film gave the images more to express to the audience through the journey. Kopple's documentary gives viewers a front row seat of the horrible atrocities during the Harlan County strike. The camera can only speak so many words. Approaching this event as a documentary including powerful music makes the camera and film process complete.
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