The ill-fated coal mining communities in North East England are the subject of this inspired documentary by multi-media artist Bill Morrison. Their story is told entirely without words, yet the film is far from silent: it features a remarkable original score by the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Using rarely-seen footage from the British Film Institute, the BBC, and other archives, THE MINERS' HYMNS celebrates social, cultural, and political aspects of the extinct industry. Focusing on the Durham coalfield located in northeastern England, it depicts the hardship of pit work, the role of Trade Unions in organizing and fighting for workers' rights, the years of increased mechanization and the annual Miners' Gala in Durham.
The film also shows the pitched battles between miners and police that took place during massive strikes in 1984 and sounded the death knell for the British mining industry. It also includes two contemporary aerial sequences, shot in color from a helicopter flying over the sites of former collieries, that have since become sites of modern consumerism.
The DVD includes these three short films by Bill Morrison:
Release - Al Capone's release from prison is eagerly awaited by a crowd in Bill Morrison's split-screen panorama. Music by Vijay Iyer.
Outerborough - A trolley traveling over the Brooklyn Bridge in 1899 helped create the footage underlying Bill Morrison's neo-travelogue. Music by Todd Reynolds.
The Film of Her - A Library of Congress clerk tries to save early cinematic treasures in Bill Morrison's doc-fiction hybrid. Music by Henryk Gorecki and Bill Frisell.
“10/10! Miners’ Hymns is not only showing what happened, or what was recorded then, but also asking how any of us might see it. If mining is about digging and producing, struggling and surviving, the film is about how we conceive these themes, how films teach us to see. How do you understand depictions of the past, in so many contexts, alongside the present (your own present, someone else’s), with knowledge of subsequent images, not to mention a certain sense of yourself, changed as you watch? How is history ever anything but what you receive, your trust or skepticism of seeming sources, a narrative reframed each moment by what you see next?” —Cynthia Fuchs, PopMatters Editor and Film and Media Studies Program Director, George Mason University
Official Selection, 2012 DOXA Documentary Film Festival, Vancouver
Live Performance with the Wordless Music Orchestra, New Sounds Live at the World Financial Center Winter Garden
Official Selection, 2011 Tribeca Film Festival
Live Performance with the NASUWT Riverside Band at England's Durham Cathedral
“Enthralling! The hard, weathered faces that stare out of the past in “The Miners’ Hymns” at times look as if they were carved from granite. There’s [a] museological quality to The Miners’ Hymns, an elegant, elegiac found-footage work from Bill Morrison... this is the real deal[.] A miner himself of a type, Mr. Morrison has dug into the archives of the likes of the British Film Institute to cull primarily black-and-white images so rich, so alive with dirty faces, shadows and the occasional pit pony that they resurrect a world that for many has long been lost to history.” —Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
"An elegiac testament to the lost industrial culture of the Durham coalfields." —Nick Bradshaw, Sight & Sound
"The flickering figures of history as captured on film [are] creative fodder for Bill Morrison." —Nicolas Rapold, The Wall Street Journal
"Quite simply one of the best and most beautiful films of the year." —Huffington Post