Salt of the Earth vs Chambers

This video documents a post-screening discussion with Virginia Jencks about the 1954 film "Salt of the Earth." Jencks was a labor leader who played herself in the film. It portrays a real-life strike that occurred at Empire Zinc Mine in New Mexico and most of the roles in the film were played by the real life miners and union organizers. The film was directed by Herbert Biberman, who was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and it was not shown for many years after its completion.

00:00Copy video clip URL Tape opens on a small theater with the Q&A already in process. Camera is not yet completely set up.

00:40Copy video clip URL Microphone is plugged in and audio becomes clearer. Virginia Jencks is discussing the likelihood of miners in New Mexico getting involved in community organizing and joining unions.

03:28Copy video clip URL Man in the audience asks a question about the mines that is difficult to hear.

04:48Copy video clip URL Applause as the presentation is over.

04:52Copy video clip URL Audience members approach Jencks after the event to further discuss issues related to workers and unions.

06:07Copy video clip URL Jencks finally gets a lavalier microphone attached to her shirt and is now much easier to hear. She tells a story about her husband, labor leader Clinton Jencks, and how he was persecuted for his community organizing.

07:18Copy video clip URL She is asked a confusing question by a latecomer about whether or not she was involved in “making the movie,” and she explains that she acted in it, and played a character based on herself.

08:11Copy video clip URL Tape cuts, and Jencks is in the middle of explaining that in the mining community, where almost all of the workers were Mexican, many of the men forbid their wives to go to the picket lines, and when they disobeyed, they were beaten. She explains that she and her husband were very progressive and their culture often clashed with the rest of the workers, particularly regarding gender roles.

10:30Copy video clip URL Filmmaker Gordon Quinn asks how the film was received by the community. Jencks explains that the miners who appeared in the film were not able to see it for a very long time, until finally it was shown in a drive-in theater. The miners had endured beatings and persecution for their role in the film, and were not paid. It was very hard for the community to get to see the film.

11:40Copy video clip URL Jencks talks about a book that was written by director Herbert Biberman about the making of the film, and refers to his investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Quinn says that the film was suppressed in other instances, when projectionists refused to show it.

13:14Copy video clip URL Tape cuts, and Jencks is talking about the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, members of which are present.

13:47Copy video clip URL Quinn asks how the film continues to be used. Jencks talks about uses by organizers and on college campuses and the film’s lack of commercial returns due to its suppression.

14:35Copy video clip URL Further discussion of Biberman’s blacklisting and his wife, actress Gail Sondergaard. It’s mentioned that Biberman is dead, meaning this was filmed after June 30, 1971.

15:39Copy video clip URL Discussion of how much the film cost to make. Because of the blacklisting, they weren’t able to use any of the usual vendors.

16:44Copy video clip URL Tape cuts and Quinn is in the middle of a story about some of the uncanny circumstances surrounding the production and distribution of the film. A woman explains to the group that Jencks’ husband was accused of being a Communist and the case went to the Supreme Court, until a last minute witness revealed the accusations to be false.

18:07Copy video clip URL End of tape.



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