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.

4 thoughts on “Bringing 1913 Massacre Back to Calumet

  1. Robert Kocjan

    Any copies for sale? Also am glad you are showing the film as a lot of people, some of whom are close friends are in it. As a child I attended many a Christmas party upstairs in the late 50s and early 60s. Also recall the bar downstairs and pool room. Looking forward to documentary. Bob

  2. Laura Fahey

    As someone who had family there, or at least in the area at the time of this tragedy, I am anxious to see the film. I am on my way there, am driving in, 500 miles, and will arrive on Friday. Very curious to see the reactions as well.

  3. Debbie (Anthony) Aubin

    I was on the Calumet Village Council from 1982-1984. During my time the Village acquired the Italian Hall from a Helen Smith who owned it at the time. As solid as the building was, the south wall was held up with a brace, as without it, it could have crashed down into a lot which was used for cars owned by Superior Ford (now housing Bill’s Electric). Kids were breaking into it and we knew it was just a matter of time that someone would get hurt. We had an engineering firm give us an estimate of what it would cost to make the building sound. The cost was in excess of $100,000. We did not have anywhere near that amount and our main concern was safety. You have to understand the climate of Calumet in the early to mid 1980’s. We were the black sheep of the Copper Country. Business were leaving right and left. The Detroit Free Press did a whole magazine section on our Boom to Bust story. The Wall Street Journal did an article about us being a ghost town. There was no interest in our history except for those of us who lived here. The decision to tear it down was done for safety reasons and no other. If we knew then that our history would be of interest beyond our little community, of course we would have saved it. The bottom line was it was torn down for safety (or the liability) and no other.

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