The rise of film as a commercial medium in many ways parallels the rise of industrial production. Indeed, Louis Lumière’s historic Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895), a 46-second black-and-white short that shows workers streaming away at the end of their shifts, is widely considered to be the first true motion picture.
On March 23, 24, and 25, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum will explore three influential depictions of factory life with the Factory Film Festival. Held in conjunction with the exhibition Sharon Lockhart: Lunch Break, the festival will include screenings of Modern Times (March 23), Norma Rae (March 24), and 24 City (March 25).
"These three films are radically different from one another and yet they bear some striking and instructive similarities," explains Sydney Norton, the museum's coordinator for education and public programs. "Taken together, they not only offer viewers a snapshot of the evolution of factory work, but also of how that work and the worker are perceived and valued by society at large."
All three screenings are free and open to the public and begin at 7 p.m. at the Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Blvd.
Lunch Break — which consists of films and photographs made during the course of a year Lockhart spent engaging workers at the Bath Iron Works in Maine — remains on view at the Kemper Art Museum through April 19. For more information about the film festival or the exhibition, call 314.935.4523 or visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Tuesday, March 23
7p, Tivoli Theatre
Modern Times (1936)
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
This hilarious yet socially conscious comedy finds Chaplin returning to his iconic role, the Little Tramp, a rumpled everyman who struggles to survive amidst the indignities of the modern, industrialized world. It was also Chaplin's first overtly political film, frankly depicting the desperate unemployment faced by many during the Great Depression — conditions created, in Chaplin's view, by the unforgiving efficiencies of industrialization. Also starring Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Stanley Sandford, and Chester Conklin.
Wednesday, March 24
7p, Tivoli Theater
Norma Rae (1979)
Directed by Martin Ritt
Based on a true story, Norma Rae stars Sally Field, in an Oscar-winning performance, as a Southern mill worker who revolutionizes a small Alabama town. Laboring in almost Dickensian circumstances, Rae is inspired by a New York union organizer to fight for better conditions and wages — and, despite the pressures exerted by management, successfully orchestrates an election to unionize the factory. Also starring Beau Bridges and Ron Leibman.
Thursday, March 25
7p, Tivoli Theater
24 City (2008)
Directed by Jia Zhang-ke
Blending fiction and documentary, 24 City puts a human face on the consequences of modern China's rapid industrial and economic growth. Shot in Chengdu, in the Sichuan province, the film documents the history of state-owned Factory 420, a once-booming plant that was demolished in 2007 to make room for an upscale apartment complex. Interviews with former factory workers are interwoven with fictional scenes starring three leading actors: Joan Chen, Lu Liping, and Zhao Tao. Ironically, the film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival just four days after a massive earthquake devastated parts of Chengdu.