BIFF 2013 - 1913 Massacre - Cinema Review

'The actual events of the day seem destined to be hidden forever, woven deep into the stories people have taken refuge in repeating and believing.'

Slight of runtime, it's surprising just how many interesting themes and ideas Louis Galdieri and Ken Ross' documentary manages to consider during its sixty-six minutes. Centring around the town of Calumet in Northern Michigan, Galdieri and Ross' film ostensibly tells the depressing history of a 1913 tragedy where a stampede, started by a fake cry of 'fire', led to the deaths of seventy-three people.

With this as the backdrop, 1913 Massacre considers ideas around the notion of stories; specifically their power and their usefulness in our daily lies. Time and time again the directors talk to people who insist the site of the massacre had doors which opened inwards, making it impossible for the crush of people against them to make their escape. Yet pictorial evidence suggests the contrary was actually true. A woman who seems to have knowledge of the tragedy suggests she'll never reveal how it actually came about, instead sticking to well-trodden lines. The actual events of the day seem destined to be hidden forever, woven deep into the stories people have taken refuge in repeating and believing.

A further layer is added to this by the presence of the titular Woody Guthrie song, which relates the story of the tragedy into popular culture. Returning to the town, Woody's son Arlo performs the song at the local town hall and the documentary makers examine its effect on the locals. Again, the impact of stories is shown in a mixed light; tears are shed during the concert but some town residents question both its impact on the community and its factual validity.

The film eventually reaches a powerful emotional zenith, as Guthrie recounts his interactions with the people of the town. The heart then is here, provided by numerous interviews and the testimony of the singer. What's lacking is perhaps some additional insight behind everything. There's a noticeable absence of resolution, with the memorial already erected and the events long since past, 1913 Massacre lends itself to the notion of a revisit in search of answers. The lack of them doesn't leave the film empty by any means, but it does create a noticeable hole the directors struggle to fill in alternative ways.




The 19th Bradford International Film Festival ran from 11th to 21st April 2013 at the National Media Museum and other venues near to the city.

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