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.