Author Archives: Louis Galdieri

A Standing Ovation in Calumet

After last night’s screening of 1913 Massacre at the Calumet Theatre, Davey Holmbo, the Theatre’s artistic director, told me that he thought the audience appreciated that we didn’t “do the whole Yooper thing” in our film. If you’ve never been to the UP or never heard of a Yooper, you can get a pretty good idea of what a Yooper is supposed to be like – or at least how the whole Yooper thing has been done in film – from movies like Jeff Daniels’ Escanaba in Da Moonlight. I took Davey to be saying that our film doesn’t ridicule the UP or portray the people who live here as deer-camp yokels.

For us, that was never in the mix.

Still, it was gratifying to hear. It was the dignity and decency of the people we met and interviewed in Calumet and the UP that impressed us most as we worked on the film. We above all wanted 1913 Massacre to register that impression. It was gratifying, too, to see the Calumet Theatre nearly sold out for last night’s screening (one estimate we heard put the crowd at 600 people) and to see for ourselves how well the film plays to that big audience, the biggest we’ve had yet. People in the Calumet Theatre laughed at the jokes in the film (many of which have been lost on the over-serious New York City and film festival audiences) cried, sighed and gasped. At other times, during some of the film’s grimmest moments, they sat in collective silence.

And at the end the film received a standing ovation — in Calumet!

After the applause, we heard from the people in the crowd: a woman held up a picture of her grandfather, who died on the staircase of the Hall. Others raised their hands and told similar stories about relatives who had escaped death by jumping out of second floor windows; some people’s ancestors or relatives were not so lucky. “You made this old man cry,” shouted one. Another man, one of the operating engineers we’d interviewed, had tears welling up in his swollen red eyes, too, as he left. Someone else took me aside later on and said, “You have to remember: we’re mostly Lutherans here. This is about as close as we get to jumping out of our skins.”

Of course, the controversies over what happened that night at the Hall in 1913 and why they tore down the Italian Hall in 1984 remain. Some people in the audience wanted to re-argue the cases. Others appreciated the fact that we didn’t try to “bring closure to an event that has none” and that the film doesn’t pretend to have answers: a woman sitting in the balcony made some remarks toward the end of the Q & A about why it’s important to keep the past alive in the form of a question, not as a bunch of answers to be handed down by the authorities or learned by rote.

She gets it.

Bringing 1913 Massacre Back to Calumet

I still haven’t managed to find out exactly what George Stoney said about bringing a documentary film back to the place where it was shot, but Deanna Kamiel was kind enough to share her notes on remarks Stoney made on the topic at the “Tribute to George Stoney” in October of 2008 at the IFC Center.

On that occasion, Stoney showed an excerpt from Uprising of ‘34, and talked about some of the responses that the film’s subjects – the people in the film – had when he showed it to them. “It is right as a filmmaker,” Kamiel reports Stoney as having said on that occasion, “that you should be able to bring your film back to your subject.”

“Right”: that word from Deanna’s notes intrigues me most. It puts the emphasis on the filmmakers’ relationship with the subject and the moral onus on the filmmaker. It’s less about truth-telling — whatever that means when talking about documentary film — than it is about respect. It seems almost to suggest that bringing a film back to the people it represents re-establishes some order (some “right relationship”) that filmmaking can too often disrupt. Films are not, in this way of thinking, a matter of “taking” someone’s picture, but instead of establishing a relationship in which you are able to bring the film back to them – giving back, not just taking. The film could be a gift, just a way of restoring the moving image to its subject.

So today we flew to the Upper Peninsula, to bring our film back to its subject – the town of Calumet, Michigan. We are showing the film tomorrow at the Calumet Theatre and then again on Saturday. Many of the people who appear in our film will be there. And I am wondering about how this exchange will work. I am not expecting anything like a sense of closure or resolution. I am not sure what to expect.

As we walked around the town today it felt so eerily familiar, and somehow both real and imagined, actual and remembered, a story and a place, filled with the sights and voices and the sounds that are in our film (the sign outside Bill’s Electrical squeaking as it sways, the wind coming off the lake that so often made recording sound difficult, the rumble of an old truck making its way down Fifth Street). It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that, for me at least, the place now feels a little haunted by the film we shot here.

I’m ready to admit that this might just be the confusion of our first day in town, and I’m wondering how we and, more importantly, 1913 Massacre will be received in the days to come. I suppose we will find out if we got it right, or at least if some people think we got some things right.

Like us on Facebook, See You in Calumet

Looking for a screening of 1913 Massacre at a theater near you? Keep track of the film’s festival tour in this year of Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday and next year — the 100th anniversary of the Italian Hall disaster. We’ll be sure to list all screenings here and on our Facebook page.

Next week, after the October 3rd screening at Rivertown Film Society in Nyack, NY (where we’ll be doing a Q & A after the film with Nora Guthrie), we’re on our way to Calumet.

1913 Massacre will show at the Calumet Theatre, free of charge, on Friday October 5th at 7PM. On Saturday October 6th, there will be screenings at 2PM and 7PM. We’ll take questions and look forward to some lively discussion after all the screenings.

The late George Stoney once said something to the effect that you should always be able to bring a film back to the people and community it represents. We’re excited to be doing that in Calumet.

1913 Massacre in Peterborough on 09/22/12

Tulsa Public Radio Features “1913 Massacre” on Woody’s Birthday Week

Saturday, July 14th will mark Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday, so this is a special year for the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Woody’s birthplace, Okemah, Oklahoma.

There will be three screenings of 1913 Massacre on Thursday, July 12th at the Crystal Theater in downtown Okemah. We’re thrilled to be part of the festivities.

This morning, I talked about Woody about Calumet and about the making of the film with Rich Fisher, host of StudioTulsa. Listen here.

1913 Massacre in Nyack, NY on 10/03/12

1913 Massacre in Calumet, MI on 10/05/12

1913 Massacre in State College, PA on 09/07/12

1913 Massacre in Okemah, Oklahoma on 07/12/12

Same song, different verse – Bill Moyers on Woody Guthrie, Right Now

In the most recent essay for his new “On Democracy” series, Bill Moyers picks up on the news that the George Kaiser Family Foundation has acquired the Woody Guthrie Archives for 3 million dollars. Plans to open a new center in Tulsa are already underway. Woody’s papers, drawings and things will be returning to Oklahoma. The irony is not lost on Moyers:

What he wrote and sang about caused the oil potentates and preachers who ran Oklahoma to consider him radical and disreputable. For many years he was the state’s prodigal son, but times change, and that’s the big news. Woody Guthrie has been rediscovered, even though Oklahoma’s more conservative than ever – one of the reddest of our red states with a governor who’s a favorite of the Tea Party.

Times change, and the scene may change; the cast of characters remains essentially the same: in our film the Oklahoma oil barons and their patsy preachers play the parts of Michigan mining captains, Boston stockholders and the thugs they hire to do their dirty work.

Woody saw right through their change of costume. He knew that the man who robs you with a six-gun is likely to be more honest than the man who uses a fountain pen. In Oklahoma, in Michigan, in California, all around the country, he sang about the beauty of ordinary people whose undoing he witnessed. And the simple message at the heart of his songs is just as radical today as it ever was.

You just have to listen.

Moyers discovers it in This Land Is Your Land:

This land is mostly owned not by you and me but by the winner-take-all super rich who have bought up open spaces, built mega-mansions, turned vast acres into private vistas, and distanced themselves as far as they can from the common lot of working people – the people Woody wrote and sang about.

So in the video essay he produced about Woody Guthrie and the prospects for democracy in America now, Moyers might as well be describing Calumet in 1913 or Tom Joad’s California: “gross inequality,” he says, is “destroying us from within”. The question is what we’re going to do about it, this time.