Blog Home - Archives

Scarecrow on Seattle: WITNESS TO REVOLUTION: THE STORY OF ANNA LOUISE STRONG

 

In appreciation and recognition of Seattle's long and illustrious film history, we are proud to partner with the Seattle Office of Film + Music to bring you reviews of movies made in the Pacific Northwest with an emphasis on how these films showcase the region's many filmable locations.

Witness to Revolution: The Story of Anna Louise Strong (1984)

Recently, Scarecrow on Seattle reviewed local filmmaker Lucy Ostrander's documentary Finding Thea about Puget Sound shipyard and tugboat pioneer Thea Foss. This week, we'll look at Ostrander's first short film, a fascinating portrait of another brave and adventurous woman of the Northwest, Anna Louise Strong. Strong was a journalist and activist - yet just those two words don't even begin to tell her amazing story. Through interviews with local historians (including Cinema Books proprietor Stephanie Ogle, who did her PhD. thesis on Strong), readings from Strong's impassioned newspaper pieces, and accounts from friends and fellow activists, we learn about a woman who witnessed and documented the rise of activism as well as Communism in the 20th century. Strong came to Seattle as a young college graduate in 1914, when Seattle was on the forefront of the labor movement. The Industrial Workers of the World were headquartered here, and in 1916, when their attempt to land a pair of boats on the docks at Everett was met with gunfire, a day now referred to as the Everett Massacre, Strong reported on it and never looked back. One of the film's highlights is an eyewitness account from massacre survivor Jack Miller, who in 1984 was still an eloquent spokesman for the Wobblies. Strong went on to cover the Seattle General Strike of 1919 (the first general strike in U.S. history) for the national papers and, while writing for Seattle's only labor-owned paper, The Seattle Union Record, wrote a famous editorial which captured the excitement and summarized the pioneering changes in Seattle's labor movement. To wit, "We are undertaking the most tremendous move ever made by labor in this country, a move which will lead - NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!" Strong took a lot of heat from both conservatives and progressives during this time, but continued to forge ahead. She was the second woman elected to the Seattle School Board until she was recalled for opposing World War I. She then joined John Reed and other ex-pats in Russia during the Russian Revolution and ended up staying there for 30 years, editing a Moscow newspaper and teaching English to Leon Trotsky. After getting kicked out of Russia on espionage charges, she moved to China where she didn't miss a step, publishing the internationally read "Letters From China" and gaining the confidence of Mao Zedong. One of the interviewees in the film, Sidney Rittenberg, was Strong's translator in China and is the subject of Ostrander's new feature The Revolutionary, which played at SIFF this year. We hope to someday have that film at Scarecrow, but in the meantime, we are fortunate Witness to Revolution is a part of our collection. It's a great link to the rich history of our city's labor movement, as well as a warm, eye-opening portrait of a brave woman whose years in Seattle planted a seed of activism she remained rooted in for the rest of her life.

-Mark Steiner

To post a comment, please login.

blog