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April 28, 2003

Undergrad brings May Day Labor Film Festival screenings to UCSC April 30

By Jennifer McNulty

Community studies major Shannon Pate has combined her passion for documentary film with political activism to bring two powerful films to UCSC as part of the upcoming second annual May Day Labor Film Festival.

Ironworker Denise Johnson
is featured in Hammering it Out, one of the films in the film festival.

Thanks largely to Pate’s organizing, UCSC will host the screenings of Behind the Labels and Hammering It Out, two pathbreaking documentaries by women filmmakers that showcase the role of women in the contemporary labor movement.

The films will be shown Wednesday, April 30, at 7 p.m. in the Kresge Town Hall. The screenings are open to the public; admission is by donation.

Produced and directed by Academy Award-winner Tia Lessin, Behind the Labels is a film about the exploitation by U.S. corporations of female garment workers on the Pacific island of Saipan, the only U.S. territory exempt from labor and immigration laws. The workers’ undercover video footage of their sweatshop working conditions spawned an international outcry. Hammering It Out, directed by Vivian Price, depicts the experiences of women in the building trades on the Century Freeway Women’s Employment Project in Los Angeles.

Pate has arranged for both directors to attend the screenings and discuss their films with the audience. They will be joined by Carmencita "Chie" Abad, a former garment worker in Saipan who is now a labor activist with Global Exchange.

Dubbed "Women’s Night," the UCSC event is part of Pate’s senior project. "Film is a great way to get people interested in certain issues," said Pate. "I know in the past it has inspired me to learn more about what I can do on certain issues."

Pate saw Behind the Labels and briefly met Lessin and Price last year during a visit to Washington, D.C. Behind the Labels tells the story of women from the Philippines, China, Thailand, and elsewhere in Asia who were lured to Saipan with promises of high-paying jobs only to find themselves earning a pittance and living in miserable conditions. Because of the labor-law exemption, garments made in Saipan for manufacturers including The Gap, J. Crew, and Polo carry the "Made in the USA" label, explained Pate.

The film features footage made by garment workers who smuggled video cameras into factories to document the conditions in which they were working, said Pate. "It’s really such an amazing story," she said. "It shows how women have control over their situation and can change things. That’s really great."

Pate, a graduating senior, will document her work on two film festivals as part of her senior project on film and social documentary. In addition to the labor film festival, Pate is a volunteer organizer of the Critical Resistance Film Festival that will take place at the end of May. That two-day festival features films about the prison industrial complex and will include screenings at UCSC and off campus. Pate is coordinating the UCSC event, which will include a panel discussion; the second night is being co-organized by Barrios Unidos.

The UCSC screenings of Behind the Labels and Hammering It Out are supported in part by funding from a grant administered by the Community Studies and Latin American and Latino Studies Departments for undergraduates and graduate students conducting research on labor issues, said Paul Ortiz, assistant professor of community studies and Pate’s academic adviser.

The May Day Labor Film Festival will take place April 27-May 1. Among the films being screened are The Navigators by Ken Loach, about British Rail workers and their government's drive to privatize in the 1990s, and the restored classic Matewan, the award-winning portrayal by director John Sayles of the 1920s miners' revolt in West Virginia. A full schedule is available online.

Among the festival sponsors are the UCSC Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community and the Community Studies Department.

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