Category Archives: News

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.

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.

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.

The Banks Are Made of Marble

Over the weekend, a CBS News blogger covering the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations happened on someone singing “The Banks are Made of Marble,” a tune Pete Seeger and The Weavers covered.

The banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miner sweated for…

This was an encore performance, of sorts: Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul and Mary fame) sang the tune for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators last weekend. People have been tweeting links to the song on YouTube; they were singing the song at Occupy Cincinnati.

This simple little song — which so nicely captures the spirit of the music the Weavers, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie made — is everywhere in this movement. Maybe Occupy Wall Street will bring about a resurgence of simple little songs like this — songs that tell the truth about people’s lives, songs that everybody can sing.

And maybe that’s why the story of the 1913 Massacre resonates more powerfully now than ever before. For Woody, what happened at Italian Hall in 1913 was a story about what was happening in America in the 1930s and 1940s, a story about “greed for money” and the destruction it leaves in its wake.

And greed is what the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are all about: it’s almost as if these protests are the long-awaited answer to Gordon Gekko’s infamous “Greed is good.”

The connections are there, waiting to be made; it’s 1913 or 1937 or 1941 all over again. That’s why for Arlo Guthrie, the Italian Hall disaster as captured in Woody’s song is almost an archetypal event, or at least an event that helps us (still) understand “who we are and where we came from”; it gains and gathers meaning, tying past to present. As he says at one point in the film:

These events are like stones in a pond that have waves that go way into the future. This is where I think my dad was at his best: thinking about these things, wondering about them.

The story of what happened in Calumet is not just a story about what happened in 1913. That’s a very important story, because it left an indelible mark on many people’s lives, on a whole town, on the country. But as many people have said to us after watching the film, the real “massacre” in the town and in people’s lives seems to have taken place — or continued — long after the 1913 event. And now, it appears, the event is still unfolding, 100 years after the fact.

Finished… but not finished

A quick update. We finished 1913 Massacre in mid-July, but of course… we aren’t finished.

The finished film runs 65 minutes. We are now submitting to festivals, making plans to tour with the film, bringing it to schools and towns, and working on two upcoming centenaries: Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday in 2012 and the 100th anniversary of the Italian Hall disaster on December 24th, 1913.

We’re also re-doing this site — as you can see. The new site will include a much much nicer design, more information about our project and updates on where the film is screening.

So please accept our apologies for the work in progress, and be sure to check back soon.

New Grant from the National Park Service

We are newly encouraged in our (slow, but methodical, and steady) race to the finish line by a new grant from the Keweenaw National Historical Park and the National Park Service. The grant will help cover fine cut editing.

Don’t forget: you can help us get along with a donation today!

Is Woody’s song “Depressing”?

Andrew Sullivan today is soliciting nominations for Depressing Christmas Songs, and — no surprise — somebody nominated Woody Guthrie’s 1913 Massacre. We beg to differ. In the course of working on this film, we’ve discovered that while “1913 Massacre” tells a tragic Christmas story, it’s also a song that continues to inspire us to hope for better things — as Woody would have us do. But more on that later: we’ve got to get back to editing. We’ve got a 75 minute roughcut at this point and we’re still trying to raise enough money to finish the film. Keep hope alive.