Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)

PG  |   |  Documentary  |  28 September 1977 (France)
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Ratings: 8.3/10 from 3,403 users   Metascore: 80/100
Reviews: 40 user | 28 critic | 5 from Metacritic.com

A filmed account of a bitterly violent miner strike.


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Norman Yarborough ...
Himself - Eastover Mining President
Houston Elmore ...
Himself - UMW organizer
Phil Sparks ...
Himself - UMW staff
John Corcoran ...
Himself - Consolidated Coal President
John O'Leary ...
Himself - former Bureau of Mines director
Donald Rasmussen ...
Himself - Blackwing Clinic, WV (as Dr. Donald Rasmussen)
Hawley Wells Jr. ...
Himself (as Dr. Hawley Wells Jr.)
Tom Williams ...
Himself - Boyle campaigner
Chip Yablonski ...
Ken Yablonski ...
Logan Patterson ...
Himself - negotiator
Harry Patrick ...
Himself - UMW secretary-treasurer
Mike Trbovich ...
Himself - UMW VP
Bernie Aronson ...
Himself - UMW staff
Guy Farmer ...
Himself - BCPA General Counsel


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 <lewison+@pitt.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

28 September 1977 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Eparhia Harlan I.P.A.  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


(archive footage)|

Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?


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 »


Referenced in 30 Days in Hell: The Making of 'The Devil's Rejects' (2005) See more »


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User Reviews

A gripping reality that still exists in America.
7 May 2003 | by (iowa city, iowa) – See all my reviews

Dirt roads, no plumbing, wages lower than the standard living condition rates, abused mentally and physically by a large monopolistic corporation, and a lack of a full education are all factors that led to the strike of the minors in Harlan County. A county that time as well as the nation forgot. A county that did not progressed on beyond the persecution and disgraceful treatment of the 1930's proletariat. A county where the average man lived in constant fear that there would not be a constant and or adequate income; where the only way to see change was to unite and to revolt by any means to force people to see the intolerable conditions that they live in.

This documentary was filmed over a period of 4 years which in turn showed the lack of speed for a change from a peon work ethic to one of equality. The men of the mine saw the results that a union in other parts of the country and the standard of living that most Americans enjoyed as compared to their own situation. The community of Harlan County had a desire for change from an almost forced labor to one where the worker could make choices, have health care and to not live from pay check to pay check. The men and the woman were willing to risk everything for a better future for their children. The wives of the minors not only lived in the same conditions but had the same drive for changes and a difference. The women not only increased the numbers for picket lines but they also brought the importance of the strike to an `at home' feel. The rough terrain, harsh living community, and dirty, dingy way of life that a miner and a miner's family lived in was adequately represented in the film via the raw nature of the interviews and the in the field live spontaneous coverage. You as the viewer did not sit back and watch the film but instead were brought in to the lives of these men and woman. The filming brought a sense to the audience that you were there on the picket line, you felt the terror of being attacked, and you experienced the chaos when shots were fired at unarmed citizens. The falling of the camera and the blackness of the shot exemplifies the nature of not understanding what was going on at that moment. This in your face type of filming also show all aspects of what a strike of this nature entails. The viewer saw the aftermath and hospitalization of the battles between unarmed men and the `gun -thugs' sent to end picket lines. Like Bordwall and Thompson state the film crew used was small and more mobile, this not only rejected the traditional ideals of script and structure but also allowed the film makers to almost disappear into the back ground and let the action unfold in font of their eyes. This form of filming were there is a no holds bar or in your face tactic shows all portions of the incident, meaning that there is a feeling that the camera was never turned off. It brought light to a subject that most would not have known about, a subject that it profoundly influenced. The press that such documentaries bring to these hidden incidents carries a strong level of change and importance that otherwise would not be there. The filming of these events is intense. The film must express the telling of a complete story, one that ties the events that previously unfolded through the elapsed filming time to a coherent ending, being it either good or bad. The documentary film is a modern day form of passing on a lesson or an experience to a new audience, the modern day word of mouth story telling.

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