It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The film retains all of its power, in the story of a miners' strike in Kentucky where the company employed armed goons to escort scabs into the mines, and the most effective picketers were the miners' wives -- articulate, indominable, courageous. It contains a famous scene where guns are fired at the strikers in the darkness before dawn, and Kopple and her cameraman are knocked down and beaten.
"I found out later that they planned to kill us that day," Kopple said later, in a discussion I chaired at the Filmmakers' Lodge. "They wanted to knock us out because they didn't want a record of what was happening." But her cinematographer, Hart Perry, got an unforgettable shot of an armed company employee driving past in his pickup, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Kopple brought some friends along to the festival. Foremost among them was Hazel Dickens, a miner's wife and sister, now 69, who wrote songs for the movie and led the room in singing "Which Side Are You On?" Kopple also shared the stage with Utah miners who are currently on strike; although the national average pay for coal miners is $15 to $16 an hour, these workers -- who are striking for a union contract -- are paid $7 for the backbreaking and dangerous work.
Using a translator, the Spanish-speaking miners told their story. One detail struck me with curious strength. A miner complained that his foreman demanded he give him a bottle of Gatorade every day as sort of a job tax. It is the small scale of the bribe that hit me, demonstrating how desperately poor these workers are. Work it out, and the Gatorade represents 10 percent of a daily wage.