A once-thriving mining town in Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula is still haunted by the tragic events that inspired Woody Guthrie's song "1913 Massacre."
In Calumet, the past has been shrouded in myth, half-truths and collective denial. Now, as the town struggles to overcome its current troubles, Calumet faces new questions about the memory and the meaning of Christmas Eve, 1913.
On that fateful day, the striking miners of Calumet, their wives and children, about five hundred people in all, were gathered in Italian Hall for a holiday party held on the second floor, at the top of a steep stairway. After the festivities had begun, someone -- to this day, no one knows who -- yelled Fire!
Despite efforts to keep the Hall under control, panic took hold of the crowd. The miners, their wives and children made a mad rush for the stairs. In the ensuing chaos, seventy-four people were crushed and suffocated to death on the stairway of Italian Hall. Fifty-nine of the dead were children. There was no fire.
In the version of events that found its way into Woody Guthrie's song, the "copper-boss thug-men" had plotted to yell Fire! and were holding the door of Italian Hall shut, so that the miners and their families could not escape.
Working in DV and 16mm film, and using a mix of archival and original materials -- including interviews with Italian Hall survivors and Calumet residents, writers, activists, and musicians such as Pete Seeger, Ani DiFranco and Arlo Guthrie -- the filmmakers explore what happened on Christmas Eve, 1913, what Woody's song tells us (and doesn't tell us) about that event, and what that all means about America, past and present.
The film moves fluidly between time zones, among narrators living and dead, and between stories separated by years and by geography. Above all, the project testifies to the unique power of Woody Guthrie's music: his songs take us to places in America most of us have never been, tell stories that haven't made...