With its plundering of Hollywood narrative conventions - notably an action pic crescendo climax, and establishment 'villains' who could have come straight from Central Casting - Kopple's documentary about a Kentucky miner's strike fails in ways typical of many American political films which strike a chord in the liberal conscience and go on to win Oscars. Harlan County inevitably gets very confused/confusing at times, but there's some extraordinary footage by the courageous crew, and to its credit the film eschews any BBC notions of 'impartiality' or 'balance'. The role of women in the strike (as pickets, debaters about tactics, morale-boosters and strengtheners of solidarity) begs comparison with Salt of the Earth. Required viewing, therefore, but there should have been more analysis and less emotive effect.
Cast and crew
Bessie Lou Cornett