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.

5 thoughts on “A Standing Ovation in Calumet

  1. Jennifer Weirtz

    Beautifully written, filmed, produced. I will NOT spoil the movie for you, viewers who have not yet seen this film. However, what I will say is: if you or anyone you are related to or anyone you just know, is connected to this incident in the history of the Copper Country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – please go see this movie. It WILL move you.

    I am a new resident of the Copper Country who had no idea this tragedy had taken place. I told the producers Mr. Ken Ross and Mr. Louis Galdieri after the movie, “Well done”. I attended the first viewing of this film in Calumet last evening and was “wowed” by not only the film itself but by the interaction of Mr. Ross and Mr. Galdieri during the ‘after-movie’ question and answer session. The audience I was part of gave these gentlemen a standing ovation. Mr. Ross and Mr. Galdieri showed such respect to the audience which included several of the actual people who were in the movie itself. There were questions for which there were several differing answers, but arguably, even more questions for which there are no answers as yet.

  2. Will Demull

    Thanks for making the film and subsequently
    showing it back in the town of the original

    Back in summer of 1974, I had the honor and fortune of getting my professional start as a theatrical light designer at Calumet Theatre where I designed 6 productions in a brief 8 weeks, including 2 major musicals. The cast and crew for those productions were students
    (and ex-students) from Michigan State Un.
    It wasn’t until 5 years later that I heard a recording of Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre” and was immediately intrigued….

    I do hope that I get a chance to view your
    film in the near future and thanks for pursuing such a worthy historical endeavor in
    a cinematic format.

  3. Laura Fahey

    Saw it this afternoon – Saturday – and I saw it as very informative as well as very respectful. It was hard to see what the miners of that time dealt with, my great grandfather was one of them. He was not in the Italian Hall, but I am certain that disaster had something to do with the family decision to move down state not long after.

  4. Sally Anderson

    We saw the film Friday night and weren’t sure what to expect but were pleasantly surprized at how good it was. Loved the old photos and interviews with local citizens. Most importantly the story was told as remembered by people who lived it either themselves or thru their family and friends. The truth of what happened may never be known but is what each person believes it to be. Thanks for telling the story and doing something good for the town of Calumet. Your love of the people and area show in your film.

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