Archive 2003 Schedule 2003Films 2003 Speakers & Filmmakers

May Day Labor Film Festival


The Navigators (Director: Ken Loach, 2003, 92 min)
The latest film by the director of Bread and Roses, Land and Freedom, and other award-winning films, follows the scandalous privatization of British Rail and the resulting social, economic and private implications for a group of rail track workers at a Yorkshire depot. When a group of British Rail workers are told they are being taken over by a private company their supervisor Harpic (Sean Glenn) explains that they will have to accept new work practices. The new company, East Midland Infrastructure, has equipped Harpic with the predictable spin about loyalty to the company and not divulging secrets to competitors. Workplace safety even gets a mention when Harpic declares: "If we don't work safely we don't work at all. Deaths have got to be kept to an acceptable level." When the workers ask for a definition of "acceptable level" the supervisor refers to his company notes and replies "no more than two per year."

The film exposes the company's sinister ploy to force the workers to take voluntary redundancy packages and join a pool of casual agency workers with no entitlements or safety conditions. The privatisation of the depot ends in tragedy for the once loyal and comradely group of five workers at the centre of the film.

The implications of the film have no national boundaries. Similar issues, including the erosion of health and safety conditions and employment entitlements, have affected trade unionists and workers in Australia as a result of privatisation and the proliferation of labour hire firms.

There are no Hollywood sets or actors in this film. Shot on location in Yorkshire with a cast of local actors and comics The Navigators has an authenticity not found in many commercially produced films. The brilliant performances from the mostly non-professional actors are fundamental to the success of the film. The story is engaging without being overdramatised and the political message of the film is understated but forceful due to the powerful performances and excellent script.

First time script writer, Rob Dawber, died in February 2001 from mesothelioma which he contracted while working with asbestos on the railways. He worked for British Rail for 18 years and was an active union representative until he ceased working after privatisation of the industry in 1997. Dawber wrote to Ken Loach about his experiences of working on the railways and was encouraged by Loach to develop his ideas into a film script. He was on set during the shooting of the film and saw the final cut before he died. (Notes from laborheritage@yahoogroups.com)
Link to Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page for The Navigators

Mother Trucker: The Diana Kilmury Story (Director: Sturla Gunnarsson, 1996, 92 min)
An extraordinary Canadian truck driver fights to end corruption in her union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. She rallies support and gains respect of the rank and file, organizing grass-roots democracy through the Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Along the way she counters sexism in the traditionally male occupation she has chosen. Her personal life--much of it focused on helping her son deal with his disability--is drawn into the struggle as she must fight the union for his long-term disability. Kilmury is eventually elected Vice President of the Teamsters on the slate with Ron Carey. Actrress Barbara Williams who plays Diana Kilmury will introduce the film. (Notes by Jeffrey Smedberg)
Link to Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page for Mother Trucker

Los Trabajadores (Producer: Heather Courtney, 2002, 48 min)
It's 1999, and the booming city of Austin, Texas keeps on growing--thanks largely to men like Ramon and Juan, who work some of the hardest jobs in an America that wants their labor but fails to provide legal channels for them to immigrate and work. Through the two men's lives and a battle over Austin's controversial local day labor program, Los Trabajadores explores the myriad contradictions that haunt America's dependence on and discrimination against immigrant labor. (Notes by Steve Zeltzer)
Link to Independent Television Service page for Los Trabajadores

On Strike for Respect: UC Clericals and Lecturers' Strike of 2002 (Producer: Regan Brashear, 2003, 30 min) Live footage of the historic statewide strike by clerical workers in the Coalition of University Employees (CUE) and lecturers in the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) who protested at five campuses against the abundant unfair labor practices of one of the largest public employers in the state: the University of California. This fast-paced film focuses on the strike at the UCSC campus, highlighting the tremendous solidarity that emerged between campus and local unions, students, and community members here in Santa Cruz and throughout the Monterey Bay Area. (Notes by Regan Brashear)

Nine to Five (Director: Colin Higgins, 1980, 110 min)
Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin, three overworked and underpaid secretaries, organize to confront their chauvinistic boss, Dabney Coleman, in this comedic salute to all "pink collar" workers. The issues of sexual harassment, pay inequity, excessive workload and gender discrimination in the workplace--at the heart of this film--continue to be relevant for many female office workers today. Our guest speaker, Cathy Deppe, is from "9 to 5 National Association of Working Women," the thirty-year-old women-workers' organization that provided the original inspiration for the making of the film Nine to Five. (Notes by Regan Brashear)
Link to Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page for Nine to Five

Behind the Labels (Producer: Tia Lessin, 2001, 45 min)
Lured by false promises and driven by desperation, thousands of Chinese and Filipina women pay huge fees to work in garment factories on the Pacific island of Saipan--the only U.S. territory exempt from minimum wage and immigration laws. Powerful hidden camera footage, along with the garment worker's personal stories, offers a rare and unforgettable glimpse into modern-day indentured labor. Narrated by Susan Sarandon. (Notes by DC Labor Filmfest)
Link to Films Transit International page on Behind the Labels

Hammering It Out (Director: Vivian Price, 2000, 54 min)
This spirited documentary spotlights the experience of women in the building trades, specifically those women involved in the Century Freeway Women's Employment Project in Los Angeles. Framed by the story of a community-initiated lawsuit that resulted in hundreds of women getting trained to work on a billion-dollar freeway project, the film evolves into a primer on the feminist issues of equality, identity, and changing gender roles. Powerful testimonials by the women workers tell stories of the often unspoken gendered specifics of discrimination in the building trades: sexual harassment at the jobsite; negotiations about childcare and worker benefits; and the translation of affirmative action policy to the traditional practices of contractors and the historical conventions of the male worksite. (Notes by Joseph Boles)
Link to Women Make Movies Film & Video Catalog page for Hammering It Out

Matewan (Director: John Sayles, 1987, restored 2002, 132 Minutes)
An unforgettable film of an epic 1920s miner's struggle starring Chris Cooper and James Earl Jones, Matewan is considered by many critics to be one of the finest independent films ever made. John Sayle's classic is perhaps the most powerful dramatic tribute to authentic roots of the U.S. labor movement ever filmed. Set in the coalfields of West Virgina, the film is based on the true story of Matewan, a miners' community that resisted the violent evictions of workers and their families for the simple crime of joining the United Mine Workers union. Sayles embellishes the story by adding the central character of pacifist union organizer Joe Kenehan, played by Chris Cooper (winner of the 2003 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as the Orchid Man in Adaptation), who grapples with relations among Appalachian miners, their Italian co-workers and African-American would-be strike-breakers (the latter memorably led by James Earl Jones). In fact the real heroes of Matewan were Mayor Cabell Testerman and Sheriff Sid Hatfield, both former miners, who stood up for their communities and paid with their lives. Testerman was slain in the shootout that is the dramatic climax of Sayle's film, and Hatfield later gunned down by employees of the "detective agency" (read company thugs) that he and his community challenged in the battle of Matewan.

Sayles' central problem--pacifism versus violent self-defense--is not an issue at this moment in our labor movements here on the California central coast. But the connection he portrays between mineworkers' interests and those of their communities is sure to resonate for health care workers who can't afford their own health insurance, for service workers who can't afford to live in the communities they serve, for teachers confronting school closures and growing reliance on low-wage "temp faculty," and for immigrant workers whose work and home lives both are lived under conditions of apartheid. The Del Mar Theatre's 7 PM May 1 showing of Matewan is also graced by the live appearance of Gary Fritz, a third-generation mineworker recently diagnosed with black lung disease and Deputy Director of Organizing for the United Mine Workers of America. (Notes by Paul Johnston)
Link to Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page for Matewan


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