In one of his frequently quoted speeches, nineteenth-century writer, orator, abolitionist, and former slave Frederick Douglass observed that “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are people who want crops without plowing up the ground.” This loose-knit collection of recent films takes a broad look at the initiatives of individuals who have banded together in the hope of improving their lives and the lives of others. Collectively, they offer a human portrait of the nature of social struggle witnessed in different parts of the world, from the streets of Belgrade (The Making of the Revolution) to our own Harvard Yard (Occupation).
This program is co-sponsored by the Harvard Trade Union Program.
February 1 (Friday) 7 pm
Directed by Barbara Kopple
US 1976, 35mm, color, 103 min.
A milestone in the history of documentary filmmaking, Harlan County, U.S.A. focuses on the heroic fight of 180 coal mining families as they try to win a union contract in eastern Kentucky. Kopple makes her compelling case in support of the miners using both the rough-and-tumble immediacy of cinema verite and a range of contextual materials that include archival footage, background interviews, and regional folk music. The resulting film--by turns dramatic and instructive--received broad critical acclaim, winning an Academy Award for best documentary and, in 1990, joining a select group of works chosen for permanent preservation by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. This screening honors a trailblazing and enduring work of the genre on the twenty-fifth anniversary of its release.
February 1 (Friday) 9 pm
Directed by Ken Loach
UK/France 1996, video, b/w and color, 55 min.
Nearly thirty years after his verite drama The Big Flame (1968), Ken Loach returns to the Liverpool docks depicted in that earlier work to document another labor conflict endured by the sons and brothers of the original strikers. As the title suggests, the power of the dock workers’ movement has faded considerably over the last three decades: while compatriot workers from across the world express solidarity with their British colleagues, the strike attracts hardly any interest in Great Britain. Loach’s long-term consideration of the labor issues involved exposes what he believes to be the continuing methods used by the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) to sell out successive generations of the union’s own rank and file.
Directed by Lynne Sachs
US 2001, 16mm, b/w and color, 45 min.
Lynne Sachs’s Investigation of a Flame is an intimate and experimental documentary portrait of nine suburban protesters who walked into a Cantonsville, Maryland, draft board office on May 17, 1968, grabbed hundreds of selective service records, and burned them with homemade napalm. Over the last two years, Sachs tracked down six of the seven living members of the Cantonsville Nine (including Daniel and Philip Berrigan), now in their late sixties, and interviewed them about their politically and religiously motivated action. Sachs’s poetic essay about the resistance of citizens at the height of the Vietnam War explores not only their act of civil disobedience but the profoundly personal ways in which the revelations and disappointments of aging have contributed to their retrospective ambivalence about this experience.
Directors Maple Razsa and Pacho Velez in Person
February 2 (Saturday) 7 and 9 pm
Directed by Maple Razsa and Pacho Velez
US 2002, video, color, 55 min.
Last April, 48 members of the Harvard Living Wage Campaign installed themselves in the university’s main administration building to protest the university’s labor policies and demand wage increases and benefits for the school’s lowest paid workers. After 21 days of rallies, civil disobedience, and community organizing by workers, unions, students, and faculty, the university agreed to substantive improvements in working conditions. Making use of student footage shot before and during the sit-in as well as news coverage, archival footage, and worker portraits, Occupation follows the story of the longest sit-in in Harvard history, giving special attention to the effects of low wages on workers and their families.
February 3 (Sunday) 7 pm
February 4 (Monday) 9 pm
Directed by Katarina Rejger and Eric van den Broek
Netherlands 2001, video, color, 52 min.
Winner of the amnesty international Award in Amsterdam in 2001, The Making of the Revolution employs a simple digital camera to follow Otpor!, the Serbian student movement that began with only a dozen members and quickly grew to a people’s army of 50,000. Otpor! (“resistance”) took the lead in creating the nonviolent revolution that led to Slobodan Milosevic’s ultimate admission of electoral defeat and ouster in October 2000. With a diaristic voice-over narration, Rejger and van den Broek capture the strategies of the organization that claims to have been leaderless but played a major role in the eventual democratic uprising of a million people. The filmmakers use their investigation of the new Serbian government and Milosevic’s eventual imprisonment to argue for nonviolent actions as a model for global social change.
February 3 (Sunday) 8:30 pm
February 5 (Tuesday) 9 pm
Directed by Laura Dunn
US 1999, video, color, 31 min.
Structuring her work like an academic essay, student director Laura Dunn chronicles two years of workers’ strikes at Yale, one of the wealthiest universities in the fourth poorest city in the country. A junior at the university when the conflict began, Dunn interviews workers, administrators, students, and professors in an effort to make sense of the dissonance on campus, which culminates in a protest at commencement. Examining the responsibilities of a university to its workers, to the surrounding community, and to the education of its students, Dunn engages in a lively and personal dialogue that suggests more questions than answers.
Screens with The Subtext of a Yale Education (see above)
Directed by Kyle Henry
US 1999, video, color, 54 min.
Kyle Henry didn’t need to look far for a subject for his master’s thesis project at the University of Texas–Austin: at the end of the 1998 term, the university closed its Union Film Program, a long-standing repertory screening series on campus, sparking controversy and student protests dubbed the Texas Union Massacre. Exploring the increasingly corporate and consumer-driven politics of the university, Henry engages in serious contemplation of the state of contemporary higher education, which he punctuates with occasional Michael Moorish antics (as in the scene in which the all-too-patient student director attempts to schedule a meeting with the Dean of Students). Rarely has the world of film exhibition been the focus of such passionate activism.