This compelling and suspenseful look at a protracted labor strike in Minnesota won Kopple her second Academy Award in 1991. It’s a classic of American documentary making that rarely gets shown in theaters. Kopple is also the co-director of one of this fall’s most anticipated docs Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This closing night event is co-presented with TIFF.
“Barbara Kopple’s account of a meat cutters’ strike in Austin, Minnesota, is superbly lucid and dramatic. Blessedly free of grandstanding or condescending prankishness, it’s a moving, edgy portrait of the dislocations caused by corporate greed as well as confused goals in the ranks of labor. When the Hormel company proposed a pay cut for its laborers in the mid-eighties, Local P-9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union refused to give in. Defying their national leadership’s policy of accepting concessions, the Austin meat cutters enlisted the freelance labor strategist Ray Rogers. He orchestrated media events to win free publicity, betting that a public outcry would embarrass Hormel as well as the businesses connected to it. Rogers comes off as a carpetbagger who nonetheless inspires the Local. Kopple draws multidimensional portraits of labor leaders and representative workers (from diehards to scabs), and also fills you in on the how-tos of negotiating. In an age when first-person peregrinations and “atmosphere” often frustrate a viewer’s need to know, Kopple reminds us that documentaries can be mind-openers.” – Michael Sragow, New Yorker