Harlan County, U. S. A. (1977)

PG | 103 mins | Documentary | 24 June 1977

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HISTORY

Title cards throughout Harlan County, U.S.A. report on what caused the strike and what happened during the struggle between coal operators and the United Mine Workers of America: “In the summer of 1973, the men at the Brookside Mine in Harlan, Kentucky[,] voted to join the United Mine Workers of America"; "Duke Power Company and its subsidiary, Eastover Mining Company[,] refused to sign the contract. The miners came out on strike"; "1975 Coal Company Profits up 170%[;] Miners Wages up 4%[;] Cost of Living up 7%"; "Consolidation Coal’s Mannington Mine in Farmington, W.Va.[,] was inspected by the Federal Bureau of Mines 16 times in 1968. Extensions were granted to the company 16 times. On November 20, 1968[,] the mine exploded. Four men survived, 78 men were trapped in the mine"; "April 11, 1974 Boyle convicted of Yablonski murders"; "Three months after the contract was signed at Brookside, the national coal contract expired. For the first time in UMW history, the rank and file has the right to ratify the contract. The Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA) and the United Mine Workers failed to reach a new agreement and on November 12, 1974, the 120,000 union miners went out on strike."; "Three weeks into the strike, the UMW and BCOA reached a tentative agreement"; "July-August 1975 100,000 miners strike to protest company abuse of grievance procedures”; "July-August 1976 120,000 miners strike to protest court interference with labor management relations."
       AFI was Harlan County, U.S.A. ’s original source of outside funding, according to the 21 Mar 1977 LAHExam. Other financial sources included the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church, said the 15 Feb ... More Less

Title cards throughout Harlan County, U.S.A. report on what caused the strike and what happened during the struggle between coal operators and the United Mine Workers of America: “In the summer of 1973, the men at the Brookside Mine in Harlan, Kentucky[,] voted to join the United Mine Workers of America"; "Duke Power Company and its subsidiary, Eastover Mining Company[,] refused to sign the contract. The miners came out on strike"; "1975 Coal Company Profits up 170%[;] Miners Wages up 4%[;] Cost of Living up 7%"; "Consolidation Coal’s Mannington Mine in Farmington, W.Va.[,] was inspected by the Federal Bureau of Mines 16 times in 1968. Extensions were granted to the company 16 times. On November 20, 1968[,] the mine exploded. Four men survived, 78 men were trapped in the mine"; "April 11, 1974 Boyle convicted of Yablonski murders"; "Three months after the contract was signed at Brookside, the national coal contract expired. For the first time in UMW history, the rank and file has the right to ratify the contract. The Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA) and the United Mine Workers failed to reach a new agreement and on November 12, 1974, the 120,000 union miners went out on strike."; "Three weeks into the strike, the UMW and BCOA reached a tentative agreement"; "July-August 1975 100,000 miners strike to protest company abuse of grievance procedures”; "July-August 1976 120,000 miners strike to protest court interference with labor management relations."
       AFI was Harlan County, U.S.A. ’s original source of outside funding, according to the 21 Mar 1977 LAHExam. Other financial sources included the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church, said the 15 Feb 1977 Film & Broadcasting Review. The final cost of shooting in Kentucky for eighteen months and editing fifty hours of raw film down to a 103-minute documentary was $200,000, director Barbara Kopple told the 24 Mar 1977 LAT. Kopple began the project documenting a union reform movement called Miners for Democracy that hoped to oust President Tony Boyle from the United Mine Workers of America, but she was sidetracked when the Harlan County, KY, strike looked like a better story. Kopple said that she, her crew and the Brookside coal miners they stayed with had to arm themselves to ward off coal company “gun thugs” during the time they spent in Brookside. Later, when Kopple returned to Harlan County to screen the finished film, local authorities protected her and the film with armed guards.
       Barbara Kopple revealed on the commentary track of the Criterion Collection's DVD reissue of Harlan County, U.S.A. that throughout the filming, she and the crew referred to the project as The Miners Film.
       The 16 Dec 1976 DV noted that some of the miners and wives featured in Harlan County, U.S.A. attended the film’s successful debut at the New York Film Festival. The screening caught the attention of New York distributor Cinema V, which signed a deal to distribute Harlan County, U.S.A. in thirty-five to forty cities in America and Canada, according to the 4 Apr 1977 LAT. Cinema V also agreed to use the film for fund-raising events and to give box-office discounts to union members.
       Local and national distributors for Harlan County, U.S.A. denied that Duke Power Co. had anything to do with the film’s opening being postponed in Charlotte, NC, Duke Power’s home town, according to the 29 June 1977 Var. The reason for the delay, the distributors said, was the “longer-than-anticipated” success of Rocky (1976, see entry) and Smokey and the Bandit (1977, see entry).
       Harlan County, U.S.A. won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Feature of 1976. It was also among twelve films that AFI designated as “The Critics’ Choice” in 1977, said the 18 Jan 1977 DV. Fourteen years later, in 1991, Congress named the film to the National Film Registry as “an American Film Classic.” The Women’s Preservation Fund and the Academy Film Archive later restored Harlan County, U.S.A. and remastered the soundtrack.
       A 2000 Showtime television drama called Harlan County War, starring Holly Hunter as a miner’s wife, was inspired by Harlan County, U.S.A.
       The United Miner Workers of America is alternately abbreviated in the film and in title cards as UMW, UMWA and UMWofA.
       The end credits include a Special Thanks to Ken Irwin and Rounder Records, which is then followed by the acknowledgement: "Cabin Creek Films wishes to thank the people of the coal fields who let us become part of their lives and participate in their struggles; who fed us and let us live in their homes."
       The end credits also include the acknowledgement "Cabin Creek Films wishes to thank all those individuals and organizations who have provided invaluable support and assistance for our work;" who are then listed as: David Crocker; John Heyman; D. A. Pennebaker; Michael Hamilton; Jerry Rosenblum; Myrna Zimmerman; Larry Mischel; Marvin Solaway; Howie Funsch; Laura Lesser; Irwin Young; Patricia Hewitt; Rhetta Barron; Heleny Cook; Marjorie Kopple; Dale Wycoff; Alfred Kopple; Helen Hess; Peter Kopple; Ken Koblin; George Pillsbury; Susan Elmiger; Barbara Haspiel; Ting Barrow; Michael T. Penland; Barrie Singer; Anne L. Hoblitzelle; Nancy Higgins; Robert Stroller, MD; Robert Boehm; Brenda Brimmer; Jim Day; Richard Pearce; Simone Swan; William Bradley; Joe Brandon; Sidney Shapiro; Rusty Drumm; Robert Gumpert; Bob Hipkins; Richard Warner; Holly Gill; Bernie Chertok; Mindy Beyer; David Chertok; Leon Gast; Robert Van Dyke; Robert Kaylor; Merry Weingarten; Judy Gallaway; Rip Torn; Art Greenspan; David Lubell; Phil Sparks; Chuck Savitt; Bill Susman; Rose Nathan; Louise Berman; Sidney Nathan; Moe Weitzman; Maureen Hallam; Kevin Kadar; Bernie Aronson; Phyllis Cox; Houston Elmore; Hart Perry; Evan Stover; Beatrice Perry; Alida Davison; Steve Morris; Carol Guyer; Alan Manger; Ned Ryerson; Cynthia Guyer; Tom Brandon; Duart Film Laboratory; New York Cinema; Southern Regional Council; American Film Institute; United Methodist Church; Sherman Grinberg Film Library; Women's Fund – Joint Foundation Support; New York Foundation; Abelard Foundation; New York State Council on the Arts; Youth Project; Urban Corps; Exceptional Opticals; United Church Board for Homeland Ministries; Carheart Foundation; Hazen Foundation; Menil Foundation; National Endowment on the Arts; Creative Artist Public Service (CAPS); and Film Fund.
       The end credits then conclude with the following title card: "A Cabin Creek Film Production A Program under Cabin Creek Center for Work and Environmental Studies and the Cultural Council Foundation." More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
16 Dec 1976.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jan 1977.
---
Film & Broadcasting Review
15 Feb 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jan 1977
p. 28.
Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
No. 14, 1977
pp. 3-4.
LAHExam
21 Mar 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Mar 1977
p. 1, 20.
Los Angeles Times
4 Apr 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
22 Jun 1977
p. 14.
New York Times
15 Oct 1976
p. 8.
Variety
20 Oct 1976
p. 38.
Variety
29 May 2000.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Pres., UMW, 1920-1960
Pres., Duke Power Co.
Pres., Eastover Mining Co.
UMW organizer
UMW staff
Pres., Consolidation Coal
Former dir., Bureau of Mines
Black Lung Clinic, West Virginia
[Member of Physicians for Miners Health and Safety]
Pres., UMW, 1962-1972
+

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Pres., UMW, 1920-1960
Pres., Duke Power Co.
Pres., Eastover Mining Co.
UMW organizer
UMW staff
Pres., Consolidation Coal
Former dir., Bureau of Mines
Black Lung Clinic, West Virginia
[Member of Physicians for Miners Health and Safety]
Pres., UMW, 1962-1972
[Murdered UMW leader]
Boyle campaigner
[Labor organizer, son of Jock Yablonski]
[Labor organizer, son of Jock Yablonski]
Miners for Democracy candidate
Chief negotiator [Eastover Mining Co.]
[Mine foreman, strikebreaker]
Sec.-Treas., UMW
Vice pres., UMW
UMW staffer
Pres., Bituminous Coal Operators Assoc.
Gen. counsel., BCOA
[U.S.] Sec. of the Treasury
[Retired miner, singer]
[Striker, daughter of Lois Scott]
[Miner, local strike leader]
[Strike organizer]
[Miner, striker, Wall Street picketer]
[Striker, pres. of Brookside Woman's Club]
[Miner at Brookside Woman's Club meeting]
[Wife of Jerry Johnson]
[Black miner, striker, singer]
[Miner's wife, jailed striker]
[Striker, daughter of Mary Lou Fergerson]
[Miner at Duke Power stockholders meeting]
[Mother of murdered miner Lawrence Jones]
[Widow of murdered miner Lawrence Jones]
[Singer at Yablonski funeral, daughter of Nimrod Workman]
[Speaker, singer, writer of "Which Side Are You On"]
[Miner's wife, striker]
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Assoc dir
Prod mgr, During Miller-Boyle campaign
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Principal cine
Addl cine
Addl cine
Addl cine
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
FILM EDITORS
Dir of ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Consulting ed
Contributing ed
Negative matching
SOUND
Addl sd
Addl sd
Addl sd
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opticals
Opticals
Titles
Titles
Main title artwork
PRODUCTION MISC
COLOR PERSONNEL
Color by
SOURCES
MUSIC
"Miners Life," traditional, instrumentals performed by David Morris's Band
"Trouble Among Yearlings," instrumentals by Country Cookin
"Lone Prairie," instrumental by Roscoe Holcomb and Wade Ward.
SONGS
"Dark as a Dungeon," written by Merle Travis, sung by David Morris
"Forty-Two Years," written and sung by Nimrod Workman, instrumental by Kenny Kosek
"Come All You Coal Miners," written and sung by Sarah Gunnings
+
SONGS
"Dark as a Dungeon," written by Merle Travis, sung by David Morris
"Forty-Two Years," written and sung by Nimrod Workman, instrumental by Kenny Kosek
"Come All You Coal Miners," written and sung by Sarah Gunnings
"Oh Death," sung by Nimrod Workman and Phyllis Boyens
"Which Side Are You On," written by Florence Reece, with additional lyrics by Josh Waletzky, sung by Florence Reese and others
"Mannington," written by Hazel Dickens, sung by David Morris
"Black Lung," written and sung by Hazel Dickens
"Cold Blooded Murder," written and sung by Hazel Dickens
"This Little Light of Mine," traditional, sung by Bill Worthington
"Coal Tatoo [sic]," additional lyrics and sung by David Morris
"They Can Never Keep Us Down," written and sung by Hazel Dickens, accompanied by Lamar Grier, John Katarakis, John Otsuka and Gary Henderson.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Harlan County USA
The Miners Film
Release Date:
24 June 1977
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 22 June 1977
Production Date:
began Julyy 1973 in Brookside, KY
filming lasted until fall 1974.
Copyright Claimant:
Cabin Creek Films, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
24 January 1977
Copyright Number:
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
103
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

A coal miner yells “Fire in the hole!” before he sets off a dynamite charge. Other miners lie prone on a conveyer belt as they ride deep into a coal pit to begin their shift. Inside, they set blocks to hold up the low ceiling while a machine cuts coal with a spinning blade that is sprayed with water to keep down the dust. The same conveyer belt that brought the miners in carries coal out to the tipple. A former miner, Nimrod Workman, sits on his porch, singing about the dangers of the job and talking about the old days when a foreman put a pit mule’s safety above that of his men because the animal was harder to replace. When the miners at the Brookside mine in Harlan, Kentucky, vote to join the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in June 1973, the owners—Duke Power Co. of Charlotte, North Carolina, and its subsidiary, Eastover Mining Company—refuse to sign the UMWA contract, because Duke Power only recognizes the Southern Labor Union, which is controlled by the coal companies. The Brookside miners go on strike. A miner's wife, Bessie Lou Cornett, talks about how her grandfather, a union man who died of "black lung" disease, taught her to hate the coal companies. Meanwhile, a union organizer with a speaker on his truck drives through town, telling residents to support the strikers on the narrow highway leading to the Brookside mine. In an old film clip, early UMWA president John L. Lewis says that the solitary worker is powerless against the resources of a company and therefore needs the aid of a union of fellow workers. A Brookside mine foreman ... +


A coal miner yells “Fire in the hole!” before he sets off a dynamite charge. Other miners lie prone on a conveyer belt as they ride deep into a coal pit to begin their shift. Inside, they set blocks to hold up the low ceiling while a machine cuts coal with a spinning blade that is sprayed with water to keep down the dust. The same conveyer belt that brought the miners in carries coal out to the tipple. A former miner, Nimrod Workman, sits on his porch, singing about the dangers of the job and talking about the old days when a foreman put a pit mule’s safety above that of his men because the animal was harder to replace. When the miners at the Brookside mine in Harlan, Kentucky, vote to join the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in June 1973, the owners—Duke Power Co. of Charlotte, North Carolina, and its subsidiary, Eastover Mining Company—refuse to sign the UMWA contract, because Duke Power only recognizes the Southern Labor Union, which is controlled by the coal companies. The Brookside miners go on strike. A miner's wife, Bessie Lou Cornett, talks about how her grandfather, a union man who died of "black lung" disease, taught her to hate the coal companies. Meanwhile, a union organizer with a speaker on his truck drives through town, telling residents to support the strikers on the narrow highway leading to the Brookside mine. In an old film clip, early UMWA president John L. Lewis says that the solitary worker is powerless against the resources of a company and therefore needs the aid of a union of fellow workers. A Brookside mine foreman named Basil Collins says the unions are filled with "known communists" out to destroy the country. Old men recall being paid six cents an hour for fourteen-hour days inside unsafe mines, and claim that the state government, the Catholic Church and the old union worked with coal officials against the miners. Whenever striking workers turned to violence to defend themselves against hired thugs, state troopers or the state militia always supported the companies. Black and white film footage shows army troops occupying coal towns in the 1920s. In the early 1930s, Harlan County was known as "bloody Harlan" because of routine beatings and killings, until a major shootout in 1931 brought state militia troops into the county to end the violence. In July 1973, in the first month of a new strike, state policemen stand between picketing miners and their replacement workers driving to the mine. Eastover has obtained a court injunction preventing miners from blocking the road and from calling the strikebreakers "scabs," an incendiary term. In response, miners’ wives at the Brookside Woman’s Club discuss how they can support their husbands. Since they are not covered by the injunction, half a dozen women, including Bessie Lou and her mother, Lois Scott, lie down on the road to block the scabs' cars going to the mine. They are arrested and taken to jail, and, at trial, Bessie Lou complains to the judge that there are two kinds of law in Harlan County: one for the company and one for the workers. At a news conference, Norman Yarborough, president of Eastover, defends his company’s anti-UMWA policy and says he would hate to see his own wife revert to the shameful behavior of the miners’ wives. Union official Houston Elmore describes the local economic system as "feudal." Several miners, including Jerry Johnson, travel to Manhattan where they pass out pamphlets on Wall Street and tell stockbrokers that Duke Power is a "risky" investment. Johnson gets into a discussion about working conditions with a New York policeman, whose salary and benefits are far greater than those of any Kentucky miner. At a Duke Power stockholders meeting, miner Bill Doan challenges the president, Carl Horn, and defends the miners’ right to strike. A superimposed graphic shows that coal company profits are up by 170 percent, while miners' wages haven’t kept up with the seven-percent inflation rate. A former U.S. Bureau of Mines president, John O’Leary, claims that American mining companies have a terrible safety record, and that the bureau itself has a poor record of regulating them. Several years earlier, in 1968, the Mannington coalmine in neighboring West Virginia ignored the findings of sixteen Bureau of Mines safety inspections and an explosion there killed seventy-eight miners. At a "black lung clinic," older miners take stress tests to determine the diminishment of their lung capacity due to their prolonged exposure to coal dust. One man says that crossing a room makes breathing difficult. Dr. Hawley Wells, Jr., an early researcher in black lung disease, displays a piece of lung tissue from a miner; it crumbles in his fingers. A company attorney states that coal dust does not "necessarily" impair miners’ "pulmonary function." In 1969, longtime UMWA president W. A. "Tony" Boyle was challenged in a union election by Joseph "Jock" Yablonski, who accused Boyle of colluding with the coal companies. After Boyle defeated Yablonski in what was considered a crooked election, Yablonski called for a government investigation into UMWA fraud. Within days, three men murdered Yablonski, his wife and his daughter. Boyle was subsequently arrested for hiring the killers and sent to prison in 1974. By then, new UMWA president, Arnold Miller, had promised a reformed rank-and-file union run by rank-and-file workers. In Harlan County, the strike is in its tenth month and the strikers are still on the road at Brookside, but thugs led by Collins brandish clubs and guns, forcing their way through the picket line in pickup trucks. At a union meeting, Florence Reese, an aging miner’s widow and a veteran of the violent labor struggles of the 1930s, sings a song she wrote called "Which Side Are You On," which has become a union standard over the years. A coal miner's house is shot at, leaving several holes. As the pickets begin to thin out, UMWA official Bernie Aronson delivers a speech to remind the miners that if there weren’t so much at stake, the company wouldn’t be fighting them so hard. At the Brookside Woman’s Club, Sudie Crusenberry is elected president, but the real leader is Lois Scott, who proudly pulls a pistol out of her bra. When company thugs fire at the women on the picket line one night, Lois tells the wives it’s time to meet violence with violence. To insure secrecy, she and strike leader Bob Davis refuse to divulge where tomorrow’s picket will be until they meet at Mack’s at five a.m. The next morning, they push a disabled car onto a railroad track that crosses the narrow highway to the mine, blocking both the scabs and the coal trains. The women and their husbands have armed themselves with rifles and pistols to fend off Collins’s goons. The miners then ask Sheriff Billy G. Williams to serve Collins a warrant that they obtained against him for brandishing a weapon. When Williams serves Collins, he and his strikebreakers turn their vehicles around and leave. Later on, busloads of UMWA members from surrounding states arrive in Harlan County for a parade and festival to support the local miners. Arnold Miller gives a speech and musicians sing about labor glories. But, after the visitors leave, a miner laments that the union should have taken advantage of its gathered members by marching to the mine in a show of force. One night soon afterward, a scab named Bill Bruner walks up to a miner named Lawrence Jones and shoots him in the head. At a union meeting, several miners and wives call for going after Collins and his thugs, but an older man calls for restraint. Following Jones’s well-publicized funeral, Duke Power accepts the UMWA contract. Bernie Aronson says the murder helped seal the deal, but that the length of the strike, the escalating violence and the national anti-Duke publicity were also factors. The new contract lasts three months before the national union contract expires, requiring the Brookside miners to ratify a new one. In 1974, the UMWA goes on strike for three weeks against the Bituminous Coal Operators Association to reach a new agreement, and 100,000 miners return to the picket lines in 1975 to protest the way that companies abuse grievance procedures. Some miners complain about UMWA's current leadership, but overall, working conditions and pay for the Eastover Mining Company employees have improved considerably. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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