Joe Hill Biopic At LaborFest

A rarely screened biopic of legendary labor activist and singer Joe Hill highlights this year’s FilmWorks United program at the 22nd annual LaborFest. This annual celebration of worker culture is held in honor of the 1934 San Francisco General Strike and the West Coast Maritime Strike. The FilmWorks United section of LaborFest offers films and videos from around the world dealing with laborers and their struggles to fight for better lives for themselves and their communities. The screening of Bo Widerberg’s film about Joe Hill is part of LaborFest’s larger 100th anniversary remembrance of the labor activist’s death.

Besides the Joe Hill film, here’s a quick look at the complete FilmWorks United 2015 program:

Kicking things off is Sam Mayfield’s documentary Wisconsin Rising. The film follows the popular public resistance that arose against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s plan to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees. The events depicted in the film may have taken place around the time of the Arab Spring. But the less successful outcome burnished the resume of this Koch Brothers sock puppet for a run at occupying the White House.
Screens at 6:30 PM on July 8, 2015 at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library (6501 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland).

Director Nikos Ventouras and producer Lamprini Thoma were originally working on a story on Jack Kerouac’s travels across America. The duo’s plan changed when they learned about Colorado’s notorious Ludlow massacre and the role played in those events by Greek immigrant Louis Tikas Palikari. The resulting documentary Palikari – Louis Tikas And The Ludlow Massacre recounts this forgotten story. In Ludlow, Colorado, Palikari parlayed his military training from the Balkan wars to become a strike leader for miners striking for better working conditions. A Colorado National Guard lieutenant assassinated Palikari for his labor agitation. The state government wound up employing deadly force against striking miners and their families to crush the strike. Its ruthless actions earned it an infamous black mark in labor history.
Screens at 7 PM on July 9, 2015 at 518 Valencia (near 16th Street), SF. SFSU Professor Zeese Papaikolas, who wrote a book about Palikari and Ludlow, will introduce the film and conduct a post-film discussion.

Jon Han’s documentary Driving For Hire skeptically regards the allegedly positive disruption visited on taxi drivers by Uber and its ilk. How will Uber’s popularity affect the future of the taxi industry?
Screens at 7 PM on July 10, 2015 at 518 Valencia (near 16th Street), SF. The film is preceded by the short “Rise of the Oppressed” about Pakistani textile loom workers and their struggle for labor and human rights.

In a better world, a person should not have to worry about dying on the job after working only 90 minutes. But that precise fate befell 21-year-old Day Davis. A Day’s Work scrutinizes the failure of adequately ensuring worker health and safety protections in the $100 billion (and growing) temporary worker industry.
Screens at 7 PM on July 11, 2015 at 518 Valencia (near 16th Street), SF. Health and safety advocates will hold a post-screening discussion.

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the firing squad martyrdom of famed troubadour and labor organizer Joe Hill. Hill was an effective and ingenious immigrant labor organizer who was executed by the state of Utah for murder, after an incredibly dubious capital punishment trial. Yet death would not dim Joe Hill’s life or legacy. Director Bo Widerberg recounts Hill’s story in the rarely screened Academy Award-nominated biopic The Ballad of Joe Hill. Excerpt from Widerberg’s film here:

Screens at 7:00 PM on July 15, 2015 at the ILWU Local 34 Hall (next to AT&T Ball Park), SF.

A double bill is offered at a Redstone Building screening. Claiming Our Voice folows the work of the labor rights group Andolan. The group supports immigrant South Asian female domestic workers as they fight for decent working conditions and protection of their labor rights. The documentary Schoolidarity looks at the clash between the Chicago Teachers Union and former Obama Chief of Staff turned Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Links are made to Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s war against public workers and the forces pushing for privatization of public education.
Screens at 7:00 PM on July 16, 2015 at the Redstone Building (2940 – 16th Street (at Capp)), SF.

One Generation’s Time: The Legacy of Silme Domingo & Gene Viernes offers a documentary portrait of two assassinated Filipino union reform leaders. Both men fought both corruption in their International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) local and the US government-supported military dictatorship of Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. After Domingo and Viernes got gunned down in the ILWU hall, the subsequent murder trial revealed the killings of both men was both ordered and bankrolled by the Marcos regime.
Screens at 4:00 PM on July 17, 2015 at the ILWU Local 34 Hall (next to AT&T Ball Park), SF.)

The Particle is Turkish director Erdem Tepegoz’s award-winning drama about single mother Zeynep’s struggle to survive. She lives with her disabled daughter and old mother in an abandoned Istanbul apartment. When Zeynep loses her job, her future and that of her family suddenly becomes very uncertain.
Screens at 6 PM on July 22, 2015 at the SF Main Library’s Koret Auditorium (100 Larkin Street, SF).

This year’s FilmWorks United festival closes with Molla Sagar’s documentary Siren. Bangladesh’s state-run jute industry used to be the country’s biggest employer. But the IMF and World Bank shut down Bangladesh’s jute mills as an alleged prelude to modernizing the industry. The real effects of the privatization push were to protect DuPont and Monsanto’s synthetic fiber industries. Neither the international bankers or the big chemical firms even considered that the permanent plant closures would spark worker suicides and even forced prostitution.
Screens at 7:00 PM on July 24, 2015 at 518 Valencia (near 16th Street), SF.

For further information about the FilmWorks United program and LaborFest’s other offerings, go here.

About the Author

I’m a film reviewer for the Beyond Chron blog. Agnes Varda and Hirokazu Kore-eda are among my favorite filmmakers. I occasionally break down and watch a good action film…but don’t tell anyone.

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