Barbara Kopple

Barbara Kopple

In the late 1970s Kopple began work on her first non-documentary film, a fictionalized account of textile mill worker Crystal Lee Jordan's five-year struggle to unionize the factory where she worked; the project was aborted when it conflicted with Martin Ritt's "Norma Rae" (1979), loosely based on the same incidents. Kopple, however, used much of her research for the 1983 TV film "Keeping On," also about textile mill workers' attempts to organize.Kopple's second documentary, "American Dream" (1990), which tracks the course of a bitter meat-packers' strike at the Hormel plant in Minnesota, became legendary for the length of time it took to complete. While management in "American Dream" behaves somewhat monolithically, Kopple also uses her omnipresent camera to capture the self-doubts of, and differences between, the striking laborers. Compared to "Harlan County," "American Dream" finds a labor movement badly divided, unsure whether to trust leadership that seems both too charismatic and less than pragmatic. Kopple's film had its world premiere at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival, where it won a special jury prize, the filmmaker's trophy and the audience award as most popular film. It also earned Kopple her second Oscar for best documentary in 1990.