Auditorium DAMSLab > 14:30


Introduced by

Michael Rogosin


Friday 23/07/2021


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

In 1972 I heard a vague rumor from Francis Walters about a unique group that had sprung up near Montgomery, Alabama. It was an organization of black and white sharecroppers who also cut down white pine trees for the paper companies on a freelance basis. Although historically antagonistic to each other they somehow joined together to form a cooperative. This seemed to me to be the ideal subject to illustrate the dynamics of black-and-white hostility and a very creative attempt to overcome that through mutual cooperation …

The prime mover in this organization was James Simmons, who could be described as an independent, redneck farmer of sharecropper origins … The woodcutters had an extremely difficult struggle. They sold their production to the paper companies under marginal conditions. They financed their trucks and their equipment through the companies similar to the same old system of sharecropping, so that after a few years their loans and interest were exorbitant and were under the nominal control of the companies due to their indebtedness.

Simmons and a few other sharecroppers decided to band together in order to obtain more equitable conditions from the companies, including life and accident insurance for this dangerous work. It could have been the beginning of a new era in the south. I went to Tuscaloosa to meet James; I felt there was an important film to be made. I made several trips to Alabama in order to understand the operation of the Woodcutters Cooperative …

I began to suspect that they were FBI infiltrators. That was the time when the FBI was heavily infiltrating the civil rights movements and other leftwing and radical organizations. Martin Luther had been assassinated; many attempts had been made on the life of Castro … There was a connection between all these events. There was a war going on all over the globe, the Cold War, and these events were some of its tentacles. In any case, J. Edgar Hoover, the CIA and the whole array of rightwing elements in Congress and around the country eliminated much genuine protest. It was a system; it wasn’t totalitarian but it was destructive. It worked by media control, and establishment manipulation. It was a new version of Fascism, which I then labelled Madison Avenue Fascism. I feel sure it led to the downfall of many progressive institutions and the unraveling of the democratic fabric of America.

Lionel Rogosin

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Lionel Rogosin. F.: Lionel Rogosin, Louis Brigante. M.: Louis Brigante. Int.: Lionel Rogosin (voce narrante). Prod.: Lionel Rogosin per Impact Films. DCP. Bn e Col.


Film Notes

After my father Lionel Rogosin made Come Back Africa, his second film, he was asked why he made a film in South Africa against racism and not in America. He said that at the time it was the most urgent issue that needed to be exposed, but his answer lay in his late films made in the early 1970s. Black Roots, Black Fantasy and Woodcutters of the Deep South form a trilogy that goes deep into racism in America and its effects, and Woodcutters raises the possibility of Black and white poor people working together to improve their lives.

Working Together, the title of my documentary/sequel to my father’s film, traces the consequences and questions that were implied in Woodcutters. My father’s intuition about the importance of what was happening during the filming of Woodcutters once again shows his political instinct. Inherent in the original film is not only the question of Black and white working together, but what happened to the civil rights movement in the 70s and its destruction.

By revisiting the film with Bob Zelner, who was in the original film, and other major civil rights workers, we found out the who, what and why implied in my father’s film. In understanding what happened it explains what has and is happening in America today.

Michael Rogosin

Cast and Credits

M.: Celeste Rogosin. Prod.: Michael Rogosin. DCP. Col.