B.J. Coleman | Uptown News
Early May is the traditional season for acknowledging those workers who put a shoulder to the wheel to turn the economy around. In its second year of observance, the May Day 2014 Workers Film Festival gained ground in boosting consciousness of worker issues, economic justice and labor history in San Diego.
A year ago, the first workers film festival hosted four films at multiple venues. This year, the event screened 12 films in a single location, the Digital Gym Cinema and non-profit Media Arts Center in North Park. The venue’s new 48-seat theater, in operation for just over a year, was the site of a three-day celebration of labor through art, music, culture and history. Saboteur’s Kitchen was on hand to fuel the festival-goers with handmade tamales, sauces and desserts.
The weekend event kicked off at 4 p.m. on May 2, and the first night’s screenings concluded with social hours at whiskey bar Seven Grand, where the Phoenix-based punkgrass labor-activism band Haymarket Squares entertained attendees. Brian Myers and Tina Clarke, volunteer organizers of the festival, expressed satisfaction over how the community had come together over local issues related to worker justice.
Planning for the event started in January, with City Heights video journalist Myers reaching out directly to independent film makers who had created what he believes are “stories that needed to be told,” not blockbuster labor movies with a popular following. More event passes were purchased this year, with Myers noting, “That says something’s there.” He took particular pride in one attendee, a retired steelworker from Julian who drove down the mountain each day to the festival.
Clarke and Myers described their approach as “stepping away from the money aspect,” or even focus on the event itself.
“We hope we’re inspiring others to do the same, because the fight is an everyday thing,” they said.
Best known of the films screened was “We the Owners,” which was also broadcast locally on KPBS on Monday, May 5. “Occupy Love” covered the Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoots. “A Whole Lott More” dealt with the often-overlooked right to work for persons with disabilities. And “On the Art of War,” an Italian film, told the story of workers in Milan struggling to save the last factory in Milan from being shuttered.
Featured artworks were from UC San Diego’s Fred Lonidier centered on visual history of San Diego labor events, and Doris Bittar, whose “Labor Migrant Gulf” selected a small portion of the display collection that is en route from Southwestern College to Chicago. Local bookseller Microcosm and Oakland’s PM Press were present to support the festival, with donations to raffles that made sure, as Myers observed, “Almost everybody got a free book.”
Significant sponsorship support came from the local AFT Guild, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO. Proceeds were divided equally between the Digital Gym, the festival and the filmmakers.
Clarke and Myers are pleased with the event’s advancement of connections aligned around San Diego justice issues.
“We want to keep it real; we want to keep it true,” Clark said.
Their hope is that next year’s third annual festival will build even greater collaboration and awareness of how much labor matters throughout San Diego.