Alternative Histories of Labor Film Series

Drawing energy from the wave of attention to labor issues prompted by the spread of “right to work” laws and the Fight for Fifteen movement (among others), this series aims to expand on the dominant narrative of labor movements as mostly white and mostly male. These six film screenings and discussions highlight the contributions of women and racial/ethnic minorities to US labor movements.

At each screening, scholars and activists will lead discussions connecting the events in the films to present-day issues in labor organizing and work in general. Speakers include three-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Julia Reichert, art historian Huey Copeland, filmmaker and professor Judy Hoffman, historian Erik Gellman, linguist Kim Potowski, film historian Annie Sullivan, and labor activists from a number of fields. Audiences are encouraged to contribute their own experiences to these vibrant discussions.

At the River I Stand
August 25 at 7pm
Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.

Northwestern University art historian Huey Copeland introduces a screening of At the River I Stand, a 1993 film about the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike that Martin Luther King Jr. was supporting when he was assassinated. Full details here.

Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle
September 8 at 6pm
Chicago Public Library, Pullman branch, 11001 S. Indiana Ave.

Roosevelt University historians Christopher Robert Reed and Erik Gellman introduce and discuss a screening of Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle, a 1982 film about the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Full details here.

HSA Strike ’75 and I Am Somebody
September 26 at 6:30pm
SEIU Healthcare headquarters, 2229 S. Halsted St.

Filmmaker Judy Hoffman, Stroger Hospital chief medical officer Claudia Fegan, former HSA negotiating and strike committee member Dr. Howard Ehrman, and St. Bernard Hospital crisis worker and SEIU Healthcare member Bonita Williams introduce and discuss a screening of HSA Strike ’75, a 1976 film about a strike for better patient care at Cook County Hospital, and I Am Somebody, a 1970 film about a strike by poorly paid black women hospital workers in South Carolina. Full details here.

last threeFinally Got the News
October 9 at 7pm
Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.

Northwestern University graduate student Annie Morse and former UAW organizer Mike Siviwe Elliott introduce and discuss a screening of Finally Got the News, a 1970 film about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit. Full details here.

El Teatro Campesino
October 19 at 7pm
La Catrina Cafe, 1011 W. 18th St.
Sponsored by Contratiempo and Aguijón Theater

DePaul University associate professor of Spanish Jacqueline Lazú, workers’ rights organizer Martin Unzuela, and Aguijón Theater ensemble member Marcopolo Soto introduce and discuss a screening of El Teatro Campesino, a 1970 film about the theater troupe of the United Farm Workers. Full details here.

Union Maids and The Willmar 8
November 13 at 3pm
Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.

Three-time Oscar-nominated director Julia Reichert and Sara Joy Liles, member of the board of directors of Chicago Women in Trades, discuss Union Maids, a 1976 film about women labor organizers in 1920s and 1930s Chicago, and The Willmar 8, a 1981 film about a bank strike over sex discrimination. Full details here.

The series is sponsored by South Side Projections; Illinois Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly; The MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana; Black Cinema House; Contratiempo; Aguijón Theater; and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, and Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Chicago.

Alternative Histories of Labor: “Union Maids” and “The Willmar 8,” Nov. 13

union willmar
Alternative Histories of Labor concludes with a double feature of films about women organizing. Union Maids is an Oscar-nominated 1976 film about three women labor organizers in 1930s Chicago, and The Willmar 8 is about a bank strike over sex discrimination in Minnesota. Three-time Oscar-nominated director Julia Reichert will be present for discussion.

Where: Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.
When: Sunday, November 13 at 3pm
How much: Free

About the Films (text by Kathleen Sachs)
Union Maids: “Union Maids is an important, compelling, and happy new film, product of a new class conscious socialist movement that is emerging out of the strengths of both the New and Old Lefts,” wrote feminist historian Linda Gordon in a 1977 issue of Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media. “The film, if it is as widely used as I hope it will be, should also help to build that movement by making it possible to understand and use our history.” The history in question is that of working-class organizers; the film is about three women industrial workers—two white and one black—who rose through the ranks of the CIO to become formidable labor activists. First told in Alice and Staughton Lynd’s Rank and File: Personal Histories of Working Class Organizers, their stories provide unique insights into both the history of labor organizing and the place of women within it. “It reasserts the potential of leadership by people who are at once exceptional and ordinary,” Gordon observed, a sentiment that’s mirrored by the filmmakers’ straightforward approach to documenting their compelling—and crucial—stories. (Julia Reichert, Jim Klein, Miles Mogulescu, 1980, 48 min., 16mm print courtesy of Indiana University Libraries)

The Willmar 8: In the small town of Willmar, Minnesota, in December 1977, eight female employees of a Citizens National Bank decided they’d had enough with being paid less and having fewer opportunities for advancement than their male coworkers. They set up a picket line outside their place of employment (when the wind chill was -70° Fahrenheit!), thereby starting the longest bank strike in American history. Dubbed the Willmar 8, the strikers garnered national media attention as well as support from the Women’s Movement, with the National Organization for Women sending volunteers to join in the picket line. Noted actress Lee Grant directed this documentary about the affair, which originally aired on PBS in 1981; it follows the strikers from the start of the protest to its resolution. Gloria Steinem raved that “there could be no better film to show skeptics what the women’s struggle is all about or to show women that the struggle is worth it.” (Lee Grant, 1980, 50 min., 16mm print courtesy of Chicago Film Archives)

About Julia Reichert
Three-time Oscar nominee Julia Reichert’s films have screened in major film festivals worldwide, including Sundance, New York, Telluride, Cannes and Rotterdam. Her first five documentaries—Growing Up Female, Methadone – An American Way of Dealing, Union Maids, Seeing Red, and A Lion in the House were all broadcast on national PBS. The Last Truck (with Steve Bognar) premiered at Telluride and was an HBO special. The short Sparkle won the audience award at Silverdocs and was broadcast nationally on PBS. Her most recent project is an experimental interactive nonfiction web site, Reinvention Stories, also with Bognar and WYSO FM. Growing Up Female, which was her student project at Antioch College, was recently named to the National Film Registry. Her films have screened theatrically around the US, playing in over 100 cities, and internationally in theaters and television in dozens of countries. She is a proud co-founder of this distribution co-op New Day Films, a founder of the Independent Feature Project, a retired professor of film production at Wright State University, a mom, and a grandma.

About the Series
The spread of “right to work” laws and the Fight for $15 movement have brought renewed focus to labor issues. Drawing on the energy of these and other current struggles in the workplace, Alternative Histories of Labor aims to expand on the dominant narrative of labor movements as mostly white and mostly male. These six film screenings and discussions highlight the contributions of women and racial/ethnic minorities to US labor movements.

Sponsors
The series is sponsored by South Side Projections; Illinois Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly; The MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana; Black Cinema House; Contratiempo; Aguijón Theater; and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, and Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Chicago.

Bill Morrison’s “The Great Flood,” Oct. 12

great floodSouth Side Projections and Blanc Gallery present a special screening of Bill Morrison’s The Great Flood in conjunction with an exhibition of work by artist David Geary that chronicles the experiences of African Americans’ migration from the south to Chicago.

In The Great Flood, experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison and guitarist/composer Bill Frisell collaborate on an exploration of the Mississippi River Flood of 1927, the most destructive river flood in American history. The flood was one of the forces behind the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, as southern sharecroppers left plantation life for northern cities, bringing jazz and the blues with them. In 2011, as the river flooded to levels unseen since 1927, Morrison and Frisell followed the route north to Chicago; Morrison scoured film archives for footage of the flood, all of which is on volatile nitrate stock that has deteriorated. To match the footage, Frisell draws upon his wide musical palette informed by American roots music but uniquely his own. He’s joined on the score by Tony Scherr on bass, Kenny Wollesen on drums, and Ron Miles on trumpet. The New York Times called the film “visual poetry, sublime.” (Bill Morrison, 2013, 80 min., Blu-Ray, courtesy of Icarus Films)

Where: Blanc Gallery, 4445 S. King Drive
When: Wednesday, October 12 at 7pm
How much: Free

The exhibition runs from August 5 through October 29, 2016. For more information on the exhibition and additional programming, visit blancchicago.com.

Blanc Gallery’s mission is to engage Chicagoans through the arts, igniting dialogue on issues of social significance. It is a center for ideas and a meeting place for people, with the primary objective of cultivating a culture of conversation. The gallery also fosters a wide-reaching exchange of ideas through its multi-faceted approach by hosting diverse events for the public such as exhibitions, artist talks, and panel discussions.

Alternative Histories of Labor: “El Teatro Campesino,” Oct. 19

el teatro campesinoAlternative Histories of Labor continues with El Teatro Campesino, a 1970 film about the theater troupe of the United Farm Workers. Kim Potowski of University of Illinois at Chicago will moderate a discussion after the screening.

Where: Contratiempo, TBD
When: Wednesday, October 19 at 7pm
How much: Free

About the Film
El Teatro Campesino is a feature-length documentary originally created for the National Educational Television network just before it was replaced by the arguably less politically conscious PBS. The film chronicles the first five years of the titular theatre troupe founded by Luis Valdez as the cultural arm of the United Farm Workers. Its cast members were farmworkers and its original performances were staged in fields and concerned the daily struggles of their cast members. The troupe, which is still active today, inspired the creation of many other Chicano theater groups. (Jac Venza, Janet Sternburg, Victoria Hochberg, 1970, 61 min., 16mm)

About the Speakers
TBD

About the Series
Drawing energy from the wave of attention to labor issues prompted by the spread of “right to work” laws and the Fight for Fifteen movement (among others), Alternative Histories of Labor aims to expand on the dominant narrative of labor movements as mostly white and mostly male. Six film screenings and discussions will highlight the roles of women and racial/ethnic minorities in US labor movements.

Sponsors
The series is sponsored by South Side Projections; Illinois Humanities; The MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana; Black Cinema House; Contratiempo; and the University of Chicago Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture; Arts + Public Life; Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts; and Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.

James Van Derzee and the Harlem Renaissance, September 12

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Join South Side Projections and Blanc Gallery for a screening of two films about the Harlem Renaissance and photographer James Van Derzee. Patric McCoy, the founder of Diasporal Rhythms, will introduce the film and lead discussion afterward.

Black Has Always Been Beautiful is a 1971 portrait of famed Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van Derzee. Van Derzee discusses his technique and his history, and we witness his process as he photographs a young black woman. William Greaves’s 1974 film From These Roots uses period photographs to explore the extraordinary artistic, cultural and political flowering that characterized the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.

Patric McCoy is a retired environmental scientist and photographer who has been collecting contemporary African American art for 41 years and has a collection of over 1000 pieces of fine art, 90% done by Chicago artists. In 2003 he co-founded Diasporal Rhythms, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 arts organization that comprises informed and passionate art collectors from Chicago’s African American communities. The organization promotes the collection of artworks by living artists of African descent.

Where: Blanc Gallery, 4445 S. Martin Luther King Drive
When: Wednesday, September 12 at 7pm
How much: Free

“Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle” with Erik Gellman, Sep. xx


Alternative Histories of Labor continues with Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle, a 1989 film about the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Erik Gellman of Roosevelt University will introduce the film and lead a short discussion afterward.

Where: Pullman library
When: Sunday, August 28 at 7pm
How much: Free

About the Film
Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle chronicles the organizing of the first black trade union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The inspiring story of the Pullman porters provides one of the few accounts of African American working life between the Civil War and World War II. The film describes the harsh discrimination that lay behind the porters’ smiling service. Narrator Rosina Tucker, a 100-year-old union organizer and porter’s widow, describes how after a 12-year struggle led by A. Philip Randolph, the porters won the first contract ever negotiated with black workers in the United States. It both recovers an important chapter in the emergence of black America and reveals a key source of the Civil Rights movement. (Paul Wagner and Jack Santino, 1989, 58 min., DVD projection)

About Erik Gellman
Erik S. Gellman is an Associate Professor of History at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He earned his B.A. from Bates College and Ph.D. in History from Northwestern University. Specializing in the 19th and 20th century United States, Gellman’s research interests include African American and working-class history, social movements, and comparative ethnic and racial studies. His most recent publications include Death Blow to Jim Crow: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights (UNC press, 2012, paperback 2014) and The Gospel of the Working Class: Labor’s Southern Prophets in New Deal America (with coauthor Jarod Roll, University of Illinois Press, 2011). He’s currently working on a book based on last year’s photography exhibit at Chicago’s Gage Gallery called Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles through the Lens of Art Shay (under contract with University of Chicago press).

About the Series
Drawing energy from the wave of attention to labor issues prompted by the spread of “right to work” laws and the Fight for Fifteen movement (among others), Alternative Histories of Labor aims to expand on the dominant narrative of labor movements as mostly white and mostly male. Seven film screenings and discussions will highlight the roles of women and racial/ethnic minorities in US labor movements.

Sponsors
The series is sponsored by South Side Projections, SEIU Healthcare Local 1, Rebuild Foundation, and the University of Chicago Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture.