Barbara Kopple's Harlan County USA unflinchingly documents a gruelling coal miners' strike in a small Kentucky town. With unprecedented access, Kopple and her crew captured the miners' sometimes violent struggles with strike-breakers, local police, and company thugs. Featuring a haunting soundtrack—with legendary country and bluegrass artists Hazel Dickens, Merle Travis, Sarah Gunning, and Florence Reece—the film is a heart-breaking record of the thirteen-month struggle between a community fighting to survive and a corporation dedicated to maximizing profit. Beyond the labour issues, the film also takes a hard look at the living conditions, health issues, and poverty faced by Harlan's residents, and the human toll that goes along with the mining industry. The tense confrontations between Eastover's slimy security goons and the unionizers are particularly gripping, with the threat of violence hanging thick in the air. Sometimes ugly, always absorbing, this is an important, enlightening social record, one that serves the highest calling of the documentary filmmaker's art.
Norman Yarborough, Houston Elmore, Phil Sparks, John Corcoran, John O'Leary, Donald Rasmussen, Hawley Wells Jr., Tom Williams, Chip Yablonski, Ken Yablonski, Logan Patterson, Harry Patrick, Mike Trbovich, Bernie Aronson, Guy Farmer, Nimrod Workman, Bessie Lou Cornett, Jerry Wynn, Bob Davis, Lois Scott