The Uprising of '34
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by George C. Stoney, Judith Helfand, and Susanne Rostock
color, 88 mins, 1995
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The Uprising of '34 is a startling documentary which tells the story of the General Strike of 1934, a massive but little-known strike by hundreds of thousands of Southern cotton mill workers during the Great Depression. The mill workers' defiant stance — and the remarkable grassroots organizing that led up to it — challenged a system of mill owner control that had shaped life in cotton mill communities for decades. Sixty years after the government brutally suppressed the strike, a dark cloud still hangs over this event, spoken of only in whispers if at all.
Through the voices of those on all sides, The Uprising of '34 paints a rare portrait of the dynamics of life in mill communities, offering a penetrating look at class, race, and power in working communities throughout America and inviting the viewer to consider how those issues affect us today. The film raises critical questions about the critical role of history in making democracy work today.
A thoughtful exploration of the paternalistic relationship between mill management and its employees, the relationship between black and white workers, and the impact of the New Deal on the lives of working people, The Uprising of '34 is “meant to challenge the myths that Southern workers can't be organized, that they will work for nothing, and that they hate unions,” says Stoney. More than a social document, the film is intended to spark discussion on class, race, economics, and power — issues as vital today as they were 77 years ago. “This is more than a story about a strike; it's a story about community. We went out of our way to make sure that we didn't make a 'which side are you on' film,” says Helfand. “The thrust of this film is to give the workers their chance to speak,” adds Rostock. “We're very proud of the fact that here's a film in which they speak for themselves [with no narrator].”
Essay: How a film can work: Eunice Levis responds to The Uprising of '34 by Eunice Levis
Link: Judith Helfand presents Uprising and its impact on her later work, at the Center for Social Media
Article: “On the 75th Anniversary of the Chiquola Mill Shootings” by Frank Beacham
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