Barbara Kopple originally went to Harlan County, Kentucky as a volunteer
organizer for Miners for Democracy (or some such opposition to the
union establishment). She had been an editor and saw the possibilities
of raising the issues in a wider context, but always as an organizing
instrument. Her distribution contract had specific provisions that the
film would be >rent-free< in the Appalachian mining region and to other
union-organizing related showings.
The point to this comment is not to simply correct historical understanding
but to elaborate on the point that I made earlier about collaborating with
the people in the film. HARLAN COUNTY U.S.A. was the product of two
city kid film professionals -- Barbara Kopple and Hart Perry -- and the
people who appeared in the film. Barbara and Hart lived with the people
and took the same chances they did. Kopple tells of carrying a revolver
or being accompanied by a guard when going to use the outside toilet.
Whether any of this did any good for the miners is another question; I'm
increasingly skeptical about the value of a film in changing anything
unless accompanied by political organization. A film might help organize
but people have to do the organizing on the ground -- door-to-door, person-
to-person. No film that I know of has changed anything by itself.
Cal Pryluck, Radio-Television-Film, Temple University, Philadelphia
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