Sixty years have passed since a film Salt of the Earth was shown at Castlegar’s Castle Theatre, and on Sunday, November 16 at 2 p.m. it will be making a return.
Salt of the Earth is a controversial film created in 1954 based on the 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in Grant County, New Mexico.
The film was blacklisted upon release for allegedly having ties to communism and only appeared in roughly a dozen theatres in the United States.
At the time of the film’s release, McCarthyism — the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence — was slowly spreading into Canada.
In a show of resistance to this way of thinking, Trail’s Local 480 group requested that local theatres have showings of the film.
The Castle Theatre was the only venue to agree.
The film was shown five times to over 900 people.
Now, after all these years, writer, photographer and labour historian Ron Verzuh is bringing this piece of Kootenay history back for another screening.
Having been born in Trail himself, Verzuh is very passionate about this opportunity.
“It’s exciting to me as a historian because my home area had something to do with it,” Verzuh said.
“Back then, things were getting to the point where if you had a different view than the status quo you were hammered hard.”
The film itself was not actually communist propaganda as the government at the time would have had people believe.
Salt of the Earth centres on Mexican-American miners and their families as they strike against the Empire Zinc Company — named Delaware Zinc in the film — for equal wages with Caucasian workers in other mines and respect from their bosses.
Verzuh explained that the film was also an early starting point for the womens’ rights movement.
“During the strike the women picketed because the men were told they would be jailed for doing so,” Verzuh said.
While the woman were still held responsible for picketing and actions were taken against them it was a large step forward for women at the time.
The miners ended up winning their strike against the Zinc Company and thus inspired the film.
Verzuh has been in contact with some of the miners and women involved with the strike and he said they are thrilled to hear that their story is being told again to a new generation.
“[The strike] has drifted away and kind of been forgotten about. But it’s nice to look back and remember that this is how things once were,” Verzuh added.
Verzuh will be at the screening with cameras of his own, documenting the event, and he hopes to get a good sized crowd and for people to enjoy this historic film.