The Killing Floor, an essential piece of Black, labor and cinematic history, premieres with a new 4K restoration at Gene Siskel Film Center – November 22-27
One of the all-time great Chicago movies…a terrific history lesson, a compelling drama, and a lovingly recreated period piece all rolled into one.”—White City Cinema
“Rich and revealing, a cry of historical dimensions….”—Variety
“A classic study in class hate, greed and stubborn idealism. You won´t forget it.”—Newsday
“Brilliantly captures the drama of the moment as well as the historical forces that produced it.”—The Journal of American History
Praised by The Village Voice as the most “clear-eyed account of union organizing on film,” The Killing Floor tells the little-known true story of the struggle to build an interracial labor union in the Chicago Stockyards in a climate of rising racism that eventually boiled over into the lethal 1919 Chicago Race Riots.
The powerful and poignant historical drama, produced and co-written by Elsa Rassbach and directed by Bill Duke, and winner of the Special Jury Award at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival, has received a 4K digital restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in time to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the riots that swept the country in 1919.
Produced independently with grassroots support from union organizations and members, “The Killing Floor” was broadcast on PBS, received critical acclaim, then virtually disappeared outside of murky VHS copies. A new 4K digital restoration brings back this powerfully authentic historical drama, with events and characters drawn from real life.
Beginning in 1917, the hard-hitting narrative centers on Frank Custer (Damien Leake), who leaves his destitute Mississippi farm for the promised land of Chicago. He gets a job in the stockyards, but he soon finds himself caught in a crossfire of bitter conflicts—labor against management, union workers against non-union workers, blacks against whites—that eventually explodes in the summer of 1919.
Director Duke (A Rage in Harlem, Deep Cover, Hoodlum, Dark Girls, Menace II Society, Car Wash and Hollow Point, among other directorships or acting roles) draws vivid characterization against a broad canvas of the racial, ethnic, and class tensions that shook Chicago during a crucial period of turmoil and growth.
“Bill and our talented cast and crew have brought an intensely charged dramatic core to an authentic story of how ordinary Americans wrestled with complex dilemmas as they confronted rising racism and greed a hundred years ago. This is a story for our time — even more so than when the film was made.”—Elsa Rassbach, Writer-Producer
“The Killing Floor was the first film I directed. I still consider it a blessing to have been part of a film with a still relevant message and a cast of exceptional actors that I had the privilege of directing.”—Bill Duke, Director
“The Killing Floor” runs from November 22-27 at Gene Siskel Film Center, located at 164 N. State St. For more information on showtimes and tickets, visit: https://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/the-killing-floor.