A labor of love

With snow thick on the streets, a few people shuffle out of the cold and into a dark room at the back of a restaurant to learn about the past and the future of organized labor. It feels like a clandestine union meeting—the kind mythologized in movies like Matewan and Hoffa—but it's something else entirely. It's opening night of the ninth annual Missoula Area Labor Film Festival at the Crystal Theatre.

"The goal of the festival, yes, is education for sure," says Diane Keefauver, who is wearing a black-and-red International Workers of the World T-shirt and greeting guests at the door with fliers. "But also to activate people, to get them roused up."

The Missoula Area Central Labor Council, a coalition of local unions and an AFL-CIO affiliate, is the sponsor of the weekend-long festival.

The first movie on the agenda is Strike, a 1925 Russian silent film about a factory worker strike triggered by the suicide of a worker. But silent films don't draw a crowd like they used to and there are only 10 people in the audience when the film begins. At least one attendee says he is drawn to the old-school style.

"I am interested in labor issues, I am an employer and a small contractor," says Craig Menteer, who came specifically to watch Strike. "But I am also an actor and an artist and I wanted to see this Soviet realism type of film."

Most of the festival's attendees and volunteers are middle-aged or older, but there are exceptions. Rashid Ghafur, a 33-year-old Doc's Gourmet Sandwich Shop employee, is there managing the projection equipment. He feels the labor movement needs to do more to educate people, and cultural events are crucial to that effort.

"The majority of people are uneducated about the labor movement in the United States," Ghafur says. "Unions need to do a better job of educating young people, whether it be in community groups or in school."

Besides Strike, the festival features a documentary about the Great Recession called Heist, Terry Gilliam's dystopian classic Brazil and a documentary about worker cooperatives titled Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work.

The festival's organizers report that a total of 50 people attended the event over the course of the weekend.

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