HARLAN COUNTY .U.S.A. 1976
Directed by Barbara Kopple
In English with English subtitles
Here is a documentary that is generally considered to be the one of the very best ever made. It is riveting as hell, and was made in the old-school approach of cinéma vérité… in other words without any cheap pseudo-Hollywood effects or re-enactments, only raw material that was shot at the scene.
Director Barbara Kopple throws herself and her crew into the battle that was taking place in the small mining community of Harlan County, Kentucky located deep in the black mountains of Appalachia. This place had a history, it was also the site of the legendary “Harlan County War” in 1931, when miners fought against the brutal working conditions dictated by the local coal company.
In 1973 things flared up again when miners began to strike against the Duke Power Company. When you look at the footage, you have to conclude not much had improved in the last half-century. The situation was appalling, and this lead to a needed confrontation. The company hired goons to come in and break the strike up, and in one electrically charged scene at dawn while the strikers and camera crew are heading to the picket line, they are shot at with machine guns. Luckily Barbara Kopple keeps here camera rolling as we watch her and her cameraman Hart Perry attacked and beaten.
What a tear-jerker this one is, and I don’t mean in the sense of cheap sentimentalism. I mean in the sense of seeing people fight for their rights. The kind of spirit and fire that is documented in this film is something that is so lacking these days, and is something we need so much more of. People allow themselves to be pushed around, and while their rights are being stolen from them they do nothing out of fear of something worse. And that is what this film is about… not giving into fear.
And don’t get the wrong idea. This is not just a film about men. It is also about the wives of the miners and women who have lost their husbands in the mines. How fucking strong these women are, it’s amazing. It’s the kind of film that will cut you to the core. It also won the academy award for best documentary feature.
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