Category Archives: News

People’s History is Alive

I love this tweet:


This is from the Twitter account of Voices of a People’s History.

I suspect it was posted partly in response to David Greenberg’s vituperative account of Howard Zinn’s life and work in The New Republic. Greenberg portrays Zinn as a deeply flawed, philandering charlatan, who didn’t keep pace with work in his own field, and kept “aloof from the intellectual ferment of the seminar rooms, journal offices, and conferences where radical history was being born.” As for Zinn’s best-selling A People’s History of the United States, Greenberg dismisses it as “a pretty lousy piece of work.”

Zinn has always had his detractors and defenders, and plenty of people have risen to his defense. (Clement Lime wrote one of the stronger responses to Greenberg, I think.) It’s interesting to think that our film might have a place in the conversation.

But that’s not what I like so much about this tweet. If there’s one thing we discovered about “people’s history” in the course of making our film, it’s that people’s history is alive. History lives and breathes in people; their memories, the stories they tell, the songs they sing, the photographs they cherish — all those things aren’t just artifacts or objects of study, even if historians say they are.

History is at work in everything people do — and in a place like Calumet, where past troubles were never really laid to rest, history can work in mysterious ways. People talk about the past in order to talk about the present; and if they do not want to talk about the past it will find a way to assert itself in the present. People may see in the past some faint image of ourselves and our lives, but more importantly we carry the past with us; it’s our constant companion. It comforts us and causes us pain; it can be a source of pride or shame, pleasure or remorse. It can entrap us and enrich us.

People’s history is alive not because there are historians who study it, but because, like it or not, deny it or embrace it, study it or try to forget it, it’s our story.

For International Women’s Day – A Sketch from the Cutting Room Floor

This is an early sketch of a scene in 1913 Massacre that ended up on the cutting room floor. It features some excerpts from an interview with Helen Winter.

At the time we interviewed her, Helen was in her 90s and, as she herself told us, she felt her life “ebbing away.” But she remembers the day she met Ella Reeve Bloor. This was probably in the 1920s.

Woody learned the story of the Italian Hall disaster from Mother Bloor’s book, We Are Many.

It was an honor to spend time with Helen and hear her stories. We thought we’d share this short sketch with you on International Women’s Day.

Talking 1913 Massacre at the New School for Social Research Doc Studies

Here’s the video of a Q & A we did back in September at the New School for Social Research about the making of 1913 Massacre. We both loved being back in the classroom and hope to do lots more of this in 2013.

Ken Ross and Louis V. Galdieri on the film 1913 Massacre from NEW SCHOOL DOC STUDIES on Vimeo.

Frank Christian, 1952-2012

We were shocked and saddened to learn that Frank Christian, who wrote and played music for our film, passed away on Christmas Eve.

We came to Frank through a friend who was taking guitar lessons from him. We needed someone to play some riffs on “1913 Massacre,” which Frank did, beautifully, making variations on his guitar even during our first conversation about the project. Frank Christian and Odetta We also knew there was something special about a Finnish immigrant’s song called “Remembrance” that Oren Tikkanen plays in the film, and we were wondering if there was a connection — some musical connection — between Woody’s song and this sad old Finnish tune. Frank was skeptical at first. But he quickly found or, better, made a connection.

It was one of those master strokes. That tune, which in the editing process we came to refer to simply as “Frank’s Original Riff,” guided our telling of the Calumet story. In a single session, Frank produced five variations of his original riff. Here’s one of them.

Play

In the end, Frank didn’t just play and score some music for us; he told the story in his own way, with his guitar, and made himself into one of the film’s primary narrators.

There was a memorial service for Frank yesterday in New Jersey.There’s a book of memories, where people are posting condolence messages. You can find various other remembrances for Frank online: an obituary in the Star Ledger; a short write up on the FolkCityAtFifty blog; another over at the Tennessean. Frank even has a Wikipedia entry now.

Another way to remember Frank — maybe the best way — is just to listen to him play. Here’s Frank playing a variation on “Remembrance.”

Play

Thanks for sharing your gifts with us, Frank. Peace.

It’s 1913 Again In Michigan

I’ve run across a few people drawing connections between the Italian Hall disaster and the school shooting yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut (e.g., here). Maybe listening to Woody’s song helps people register Newtown’s loss, or the horror of Newtown helps us understand a little better what it must have been like for the Italian Hall parents and the Calumet community as a whole in 1913. But beyond that I don’t think there’s a very meaningful connection to be made.

It is, however, worth reflecting on what happened in Calumet in December of 1913 and what’s happening in Michigan right now. This week, the Michigan legislature — without allowing much debate or deliberation, and over the protests of thousands — handed Governor Rick Snyder a bill making Michigan a “right to work” state. They added insult to injury a couple of days later when they passed Emergency Manager Legislation that Michigan voters had rejected on November 6th. This one-two punch is supposed to remedy Michigan’s economic woes and get the state back on the road to recovery. It looks more like a last-minute power grab before the next legislature is seated, enabled by another big-money subversion of democratic process.

Indeed, a provocative piece by labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein published last week cast the “right to work” legislation in Michigan as part of a “coup.” Lichtenstein sees here “a serious defeat not only for the unions but for the very idea of social solidarity.”

this conflict is about something far bigger — the meaning of solidarity, a way of feeling and thinking about the world of work that is the basis not just of the union idea, but of a humane cooperative society.

I am not entirely persuaded by Lichtenstein’s argument: I just don’t think the “idea of social solidarity” goes down in “defeat” so easily.

It was under attack in Calumet in 1913. The Christmas party at the Hall was itself an exhibition of solidarity, six months into a brutal strike. And after the Christmas Eve tragedy, the town came together, again, to mourn. They grieved, but they didn’t give up, even after they lost their bid to unionize and the strike was over. As Joe Krainatz says in our film, “They did go on. They did survive. They raised their families. They went to work in the mines again.” And what’s most remarkable is that they rebuilt their community; their feeling of solidarity and shared humanity survived even the closing of the mines and the ruin that came in its wake.

Maybe the lesson of Calumet is that human solidarity runs deep. Money and power have never really won out over it. So far, I haven’t seen any white flags waving in Michigan.

Q & A at Rivertown Film Society

Here is the Q & A we did with Nora Guthrie at Rivertown Film Society in Nyack, NY on October 3rd, 2012. The discussion was moderated by Daniel Wolff. Many thanks to Matthew Seig and everybody at Rivertown Film for hosting the event.

Directors Louis Galdieri & Ken Ross with special guest Nora Guthrie discuss “1913 MASSACRE” Moderated by writer Daniel Wolff from Rivertown Film on Vimeo.

The Circle is Complete

A quick update before we leave town this morning.

We showed the film again yesterday afternoon and evening at the Calumet Theatre. The Saturday matinee crowd may have been the biggest of the three. About 1500 people came to see 1913 Massacre over the course of the weekend.

As Ken says, the circle is complete. We both feel as if this homecoming for 1913 Massacre was not just a fitting end to the journey we’ve been on as filmmakers, but an essential part of the filmmaking process. I understand in a new way why George Stoney thought filmmakers should bring their films back to places where they were shot and back to the subjects they filmed. The film wasn’t really finished until now.

Being with those Calumet Theatre audiences, and being in them, as filmmakers, was like riding a wave: the film carried us all, buoyed us up, plunged us down, hushed us, made us laugh, made lots of us cry, took us into dark places and then into the sunlight again; and the wave then carried me and Ken up on to the stage, where we were able to look out and see where we had just been.

We hadn’t all had the same experience of the film — that was evident from the discussions that followed each screening — but we’d all had a shared experience of the film. And maybe that shared experience, the sharing of this story, is what matters most. I know it matters more than our differences.

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.