Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Watch us on Youtube Join the Archive Mailing List Read our Blog

The Killing Floor

The Killing Floor
February 16, 2019 - 3:43 pm

Access every screening in the UCLA Festival of Preservation with a $50 pass.

The Killing Floor  (1985)

Rich in characters and played against a canvas red with the blood of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, this critically acclaimed independent film tells a true story of how a group of black and white slaughterhouse workers attempted to break race barriers to build an interracial union for the first time in the brutal Chicago Stockyards. Damien Leake stars as Frank Custer, a young black sharecropper from Mississippi—one of tens of thousands of southern blacks who journeyed to the industrial north during World War One, hoping for more racial equality. When he lands a job as a laborer on “the killing floor” of a giant Chicago meatpacking plant, he finds a place seething with racial antagonism. White immigrant workers are determined to improve their bargaining power by bringing the new black migrants into the union for the first time, but many blacks resist, having had bitter experience with whites. 

The screenplay by Obie Award-winning playwright Leslie Lee is based on a story by executive producer Elsa Rassbach, whose independent production company engaged Bill Duke to direct it as his first feature film. In 1985 The Killing Floor was invited to numerous festivals, including Cannes, and won the Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival among many other awards. The film had already premiered to acclaim in 1984 in the PBS American Playhouse series. Originally The Killing Floor was planned as the pilot production for a PBS series of ten historical dramas exploring the little-known history of American workers that Rassbach developed together with a team of leading historians and several screenwriters. The characters and events in the film are authentic and were discovered through research in historical archives.

Utilizing the original negatives and other 16mm original materials, UCLA Film & Television Archive has digitally restored the film in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 and the events that led up to it.Jan-Christopher Horak

DCP, color, 118 min. Production: Public Forum Productions, Ltd. Producer: George Manasse, Elsa Rassbach. Director: Bill Duke. Screenwriter: Leslie Lee, Ron Milner, Elsa Rassbach. Cinematographer: William Birch. Editor: John N. Carter. Music: Elizabeth Swados. Cast: Damien Leake, Alfre Woodard, Ernest Rayford, Moses Gunn, Clarence Felder.

Preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive from a 16mm safety color original picture negative and a mono 16mm safety audio mag track MTI Nova Restoration, laboratory services and DCP by UCLA Film & Television Archive Digital Media Lab. Special thanks to Elsa Rassbach, Sundance Institute Collection at UCLA Film & Television Archive.