THE KILLING FLOOR (1984)
An Elsa Rassbach Production, Directed by Bill Duke
Starring Damien Leake, Alfre Woodard, Denis Farina, Clarence Felder, Moses Gunn and John Mahoney
Praised by The Village Voice as the most “clear-eyed account of union organizing on film," THE KILLING FLOOR is a powerful historical drama set in the era of the Great Migration during World War One.
In 1985 it was invited to numerous festivals, including Cannes, and received the Sundance Special Jury Award for Drama.
Through the eyes of a black migrant to Chicago, Frank Custer, the film tells the little-known true story of the struggle to build an interracial labor union in the Stockyards in the face of brutal management efforts to divide workers that culminated in the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. To tell the story, Executive Producer Elsa Rassbach collaborated with Obie-Award winning writer Leslie Lee on the screenplay and engaged actor-director Bill Duke to direct in his debut as a feature film director. The strong lead actors were joined by a large and talented cast from the vibrant Chicago theater and film community, many of whom subsequently achieved fame.
THE KILLING FLOOR premiered in 1984 on PBS' American Playhouse to strong reviews:
When the film screened at Cannes in 1985, La Revue du Cinema called it "a particularly brilliant example of a cinema which knows how to use all the resources of fiction, without ever allowing its historical documentary side to be marred."
THE KILLING FLOOR was envisioned by Rassbach as the "pilot" for a ten-part drama series for PBS on the history of American workers during the industrial age. Funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Playhouse, foundations, corporations, more than 30 labor unions, and by the film's cast and crew through generous deferrals of union wages. Despite the positive reception of THE KILLING FLOOR, PBS did not finance production of further films in the series.
Following the premiere of the KILLING FLOOR on PBS, further distribution included theatrical screenings in the UK and at New York's Lincoln Center and release to the home video (VHS) market by Orion and by Kino International. Though the film has been out of distribution for ca. fifteen years, it has lost none of its power and is perhaps even more relevant today, following the financial crisis, than it was when it premiered in the Reagan Era.
The filmmakers are therefore negotiating to make THE KILLING FLOOR available to audiences for the first time as a DVD, Blu-ray, and Internet Streaming release.