Red Metal Premiere

HANCOCK – When Joe Lett was a teenager living in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in the 1950s there was a strike at a steel mill there, which included violence, so he felt a sort of connection to some of what he saw Sunday in the documentary film, “Red Metal: The Copper Country Strike of 1913.”

Lett, who lives in Houghton, said during the strike at the steel mill, although the violence wasn’t as intense as what occurred during the copper strike, a union leader was killed when a bomb went off in his car.

“There were some terrible things there, too,” he said.

“Red Metal” debuted locally Friday at the Calumet Theatre, and a second showing was Sunday at the Finnish American Heritage Center.

The 54-minute-long film, which was directed and produced by film maker Jonathan Silvers, outlined the history of copper mining in the Keweenaw beginning with the Native Americans, who either found it on the ground or excavated pits to get to it. The history of the industrial mining leading to the events of the 1913-14 copper strike were the focus of the film.

“Red Metal” depicts actions mine owners took to make the mining process more efficient and profitable, including the use of a one-man drill, which meant one man often lost his job. That was the impetus for the strike. Wages and safety for miners were also issues.

Much of the film highlights what went on between owners and managers of the Calumet & Hecla mines and mine workers, including the miners asking the Western Federation of Miners to represent them. Much violence took place during the strike.

The film will debut nationally on Public Broadcasting Service stations on Dec. 17.

After the showing at the FAHC, Steve Lehto, an attorney who has written books about the strike and the Italian Hall tragedy, which took place Dec. 24, 1913, and who was an advisor for and appears in the film, spoke about it.

Lehto said in order to show the film on PBS, Silvers – who was unable to attend the Sunday showing – had to agree to keep it to 54 minutes in length, which meant he had to use less information than he wanted to.

“There’s a lot of detail and nuance they could have put in,” he said.

However, Lehto said he thinks Silvers did a good job giving an overall impression of the strike, given the 54-minute limit. Twenty-five people were interviewed for the film, and 25 hours of film were shot.

Lehto said the 1913-14 strike still is an emotional issue for many people living in the Copper Country who had ancestors on both sides, so the film will resonate with them.

“It’s important for people in this area to embrace this,” he said.

However, because the strike was so important nationally, he thinks people who see it on PBS will be impressed by it because labor issues in the country are prominent again.

Airen Campbell-Olszewski of Houghton said she was impressed with the film, and she thinks it has significance for all Americans.

“It’s something that needs to be seen by the nation as a whole,” she said.

Although she was aware of the 1913-14 strike, Campbell-Olszewski said she did learn more about by seeing the film.

“I really appreciate that they went into more detail about the strike,” she said.