Municipal Government

‘Workers Unite’ Festival to Spotlight Labor Films

May 6, 2014
By Steven Wishnia

More than 40 films, from a documentary on Cesar Chavez to an animated short called Tax the Rich, will be shown at the 11-day Workers Unite Film Festival, to be held May 9-19 at the Cinema Village on East 12th Street, the nearby Amalgamated Lithographers union hall, and other locations.

The films, mostly documentaries, range from five-minute shorts to full-length features, all connected with labor issues. The documentaries include films on the 2013 New York City school bus drivers’ strike, Occupy Wall Street protesters’ parents, Chinese metalworkers’ plight, and the award-winning Haitian film Ann Kore Moun (People Stand Up). Two short films about Bangladeshi garment workers’ lives, Tangled Thread and Tears in the Fabric, will have their world premiere.

Festival organizer Andrew Tilson said he looked hard to find narrative movies as well, and he’s particularly proud of Happy Lands, “a really beautifully done movie” based on the 1926 miners’ strike in Scotland, a 105-minute epic with a cast of more than 1,000 people. The documentary From the Shadows of Power also focuses on coal miners, comparing the 1980s strikes in England and Pittston, West Virginia.

One Generation’s Time explores the 1981 murders of Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, two officials trying to reform Seattle’s cannery workers’ union. Tilson calls it “a very powerful and moving story, almost like watching a narrative film.” That night’s program also includes Grace, a short film about an undocumented immigrant caught in a factory raid, based on a story by Local 32BJ SEIU member Julian Pimiento.

The 14-minute Nae Pasaran, its title a Scots twist on the Spanish Civil War motto “they shall not pass,” recounts how aircraft mechanics in Scotland refused to fix the engines of Chilean air force planes after the brutal 1973 military coup—“an amazing story no one’s ever heard,” says Tilson.

 The festival will also host a 60th-anniversary showing of Salt of the Earth, the 1954 classic based on a zinc miners’ strike in New Mexico, written and filmed by blacklisted screenwriters and directors and with a cast that included strikers and their families.

Tilson, a documentary filmmaker, says he started the festival in 2012 after he “realized there was no labor film festival in my hometown.” Since then, he’s gotten support from the Transport Workers Union Local 100, Local 1199 SEIU, Local 32BJ, and CWA Local 1180; workers’ rights groups such as the Taxi Workers Alliance and the Restaurant Opportunities Center, and the Jewish Labor Committee. It’s about “rebuilding a worker culture,” he says.

The festival will close May 19 with an event at Local 1199’s headquarters showing Inequality For All, a documentary featuring former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich that has been called “An Inconvenient Truth for the economy.”

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May 6, 2014

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