Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 1976. Cabin Creek Films. Cinematography by Kevin Keating, Hart Perry. Produced by Barbara Kopple. Music by David Morris. Film Editing by Nancy Baker, Mirra Bank, Lora Hays, Mary Lampson. Academy Awards 1976. National Board of Review Awards 1977. Toronto International Film Festival 1976.
One of the most memorable documentaries ever made, this film won an Academy Award for then-newcomer Barbara Kopple (she would win again fifteen years later for American Dream). Kopple and her crew live among the people of Harlan County, Kentucky after mine workers sign up to the United Mine Workers of America union and are immediately refused a contract by their employers, the Eastover Mining Company. Instead of allowing the media to represent them as rabble-rousing ingrates, Kopple uses her camera to give America a view into the unfairly destitute situations that these people live in thanks to poor working conditions and shameful wages, and allows many of them to tell their stories. Her attempts to reach members on the other side of the fight result in near-fatal injuries for her (a scene where Eastover men start shooting at her is pretty frightening, but this determined crew do not drop their cameras for a second as they are running for their lives!) Excellent filmmaking, top marks for its skilled use of the art of documentary as well as its eye-opening political content.