Pitt-starter: Steel Town – A Film About the Homestead Steel Strike
I love this Kickstarter project and I hope you will take a minute to watch their intro video. Steel Town is a film about the Homestead Steel strike in 1892. This strike led to a violent battle and in the end 12 people were killed. The Homestead Steel strike had major implications for the labor movement and it all happened here, in Pittsburgh – near where you find the Waterfront shopping center.
I sat down with the folks behind this Kickstarter and I’m really excited for what they are putting together. I think this film is a great way to share some important Pittsburgh history.
I’ve asked the filmmaker, Nick Hurt, to share what inspired him to make this film. I think it is pretty interesting that Nick isn’t from Western PA, but he is inspired to make a film about Pittsburgh history. Check out his statement and consider supporting the Steel Town Kickstarter – they have just 4 days left to meet their fundraising goal.
Why I am making “Steel Town”
It’s a valid question to ask why a young guy from Vermont has decided to tell a distinctly Pittsburgh story. I came to Pittsburgh four years ago to study at Carnegie Mellon, and at that point I had not even heard of the Homestead Strike. Like most incoming freshmen, I had a limited understanding of local history that went something like this: Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in the steel industry, he promptly gave away his fortune by putting a library on every street corner, and finally when he died in 1919, he burst into flames and from his ashes rose the Pittsburgh Steelers football team.
Coming to Pittsburgh for the first time and hearing the way people talk about the old steel barons is a lot like hearing people talk about dinosaurs. They were the “giants who walked here before us.” If you go down to the Waterfront, you can even see some of the fossils that they left behind, complete with a nice commemorative plaque. So when I finally learned about the Homestead Strike in a college history class, that was only the tip of the iceburgh. I took it upon myself to research this incredible event and the people involved so that I could tell the story in the best way I knew how—by making a movie.
“Steel Town” is that movie. It’s an 18-minute historical drama about the 1892 Homestead Strike. The story follows a family of poverty-stricken steelworkers who strike against Henry Clay Frick and eventually face off against an army of Pinkertons. We will be shooting the film in November at locations all throughout Pittsburgh.
But the Homestead Strike happened 120 years ago. Why tell the story now? Well, the inspiration for me stems from an appreciation for the strength of character of individuals on both sides of the conflict, including the rags-to-riches robber barons of the Gilded Age, like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, and the blue-collar champions of the workers, like strike leader Hugh O’Donnell. I want to remind audiences of the heroism embedded in the nameless Pittsburgh steelworkers whose backbreaking work shaped our country westward and skyward. This story of charismatic leaders and ruthless capitalism holds a certain relevance to key issues of wealth and organized labor that our nation faces today. “Steel Town” will address issues of workers’ welfare, labor rights, and economic equality that hold a special importance in the wake of the recent Occupy Movement and the empowering of the “Ninety-Nine Percent”. One-hundred and twenty years after the Homestead Strike, the context of organized labor debates has changed, but the underlying message of workers’ rights remains the same. By presenting the story as a dramatic film with high production quality, I hope to prompt an important dialogue on the relationship between capital and labor in the context of past tragedies and triumphs.
About the filmmaker: Nick Hurt is a current 5th Year Scholar at Carnegie Mellon where he studies business and film. Last summer he produced the winner of the 2012 Steeltown Film Factory competition, The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested alongside producing partner Yulin Kuang. Nick plans to use the “Steel Town” short film to gain attention and financing for a feature-length film about the Homestead Strike and the cutthroat feud between Carnegie and Frick.
- Henry Clay Frick (lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com)
- Faculty Field Trip: Clayton (The Frick Family Home) (curiouslyquestioning.org)
- Labor Union Violence in America: A Brief History (theblaze.com)