Harlan County, USA (1976)

Genres - History  |   Sub-Genres - Americana, Biography, Social Issues  |   Release Date - Oct 15, 1976 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 103 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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It's hard to believe that no great documentary films came out of the labor struggles of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, when unions such as the Teamsters, the United Auto Workers, and the United Mine Workers waged battles (sometimes literally) with management over basic issues that had been woefully neglected for many years. With Harlan County, USA, Barbara Kopple is able to distill many details of those earlier conflicts: the exploited workers, the bosses complaining about lost profits in the wake of rising wages and stricter safety precautions, and the divisions between the working men on strike and those desperate enough to break the picket line for any paycheck. She can do this because she lived the story for four years in a honest effort to tell all, and did not just drop in for a week as so many TV journalists seem to do. Though Kopple is clearly on the side of the miners, it's difficult to imagine a so-called objective filmmaker doing a more effective job of presenting the issues involved in this struggle. Most importantly, Harlan County, USA shows how a strong sense of community is the workers' greatest ally; the miners' wives and girlfriends offer not only moral support but even do the sometimes dangerous duty of walking the picket lines.