American Dream


(out of 5)

Following her successful examination of the condition of Kentucky residents during a coal miner’s strike, during which she was routinely harassed and shot at, Barbara Kopple returns to another labour dispute in America in this riveting documentary. Hormel industries in Minnesota feels the pinch of the mid-80s recessions and begins to look for ways to save on costs; the decision, naturally, is to cut wages and, eventually, jobs. Unionized workers begin to mobilize and fight for their right to a decent wage, eventually escalating their struggle to a strike that threatens their livelihoods and, in some cases, their lives. Kopple once again fearlessly places her camera in frightening places, capturing all sides of the struggle and some of its scariest moments, though unlike in her masterful Harlan County USA, this one does not manage to display as much personal information in order to give a really nuanced view of these peoples’ lives. The figures on screen are often reduced to archetypes, but their battle is no less important (or any less indicative of the upsetting side of American corporate life). Filmed for the most part throughout the mid-80s, the film was not compiled and released until 1990, giving it a pretty impressive overview of the events it covers.

USA/United Kingdom, 1990

Directed by Barbara Kopple

Cinematography by Peter Gilbert, Kevin Keating, Hart Perry, Mark Petersson, Mathieu Roberts

Film Festivals:  Sundance 1991

Academy Award
Best Documentary (Feature) (Barbara Kopple, Arthur Cohn, producers)

New York Film Critics Award Nomination
Best Documentary

Los Angeles Film Critics Award
Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film (Barbara Kopple)

National Society of Film Critics Award
Best Documentary (1992)

Best Documentary (1991)

Directors Guild Award
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary/Actuality (Barbara Kopple)

Sundance Film Festival Awards
Grand Jury Prize, Documentary (tie)
Filmmakers Trophy, Documentary
Audience Award, Documentary


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