‘Union,’ Award-Winning Doc About Extraordinary Bid To Organize Amazon Workers, Announces October Theatrical Release

EXCLUSIVE: The award-winning documentary Union, about the first successful unionization drive at an Amazon warehouse, has been making the rounds of film festivals – it just held its U.K. premiere at Sheffield DocFest, and on Saturday it plays at DC/DOX in the nation’s capital. In a matter of months, the film will reach its widest audience yet, through a self-distribution plan announced today.

Level Ground Productions has set an October 18 release date in theaters for the film directed by Brett Story and Stephen Maing. “Recognizing the difficulties faced by political documentaries in distribution of late,” a release notes, “but also the enthusiastic and engaged potential audiences that are inspired by the Amazon Labor Union movement, producers Story, Maing, Samantha Curley, Mars Verrone, and Martin DiCicco have worked with distribution expert Michael Tuckman to self distribute the film theatrically.”

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Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls leads a march of Starbucks and Amazon workers and their allies to the homes of their CEOs to protest union busting on Labor Day, September 5, 2022, in New York City, New York.
Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls.

The documentary centers on a long-shot bid by Chris Smalls and other employees at an Amazon facility on Staten Island, New York to form a union. The Jeff Bezos-founded company fiercely opposed the effort.

“On April 1, 2022 a group of ordinary workers (the ALU) in Staten Island made history when they did what everyone thought was impossible: they successfully won their election to become the very first unionized Amazon workplace in America, with no prior organizing experience, no institutional backing, and a total budget of $120,000 raised on GoFundMe,” states a description of the film. “Union focuses on the journey of the worker-turned-organizers, described by ALU President Christian Smalls as the ‘N.W.A. of the organizing world,’ whose highly unconventional journey goes from wearing Money Heist costumes at press conferences to distributing free marijuana to workers.”

The synopsis continues, “The film shows the group through political battles, pivotal strategic events, and interpersonal tensions that test their commitments and their solidarity. Up against a corporate superpower and with legal protections at a drastic low for workers, all odds are against the ALU – who yet remain unswayed in their beliefs in collective action and the dignity and power of the working-class.”

Union premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Award for Art of Change. If one thing could have been predicted at that point, it was that Union wouldn’t be acquired by Amazon (unless for a possible “catch and kill” scenario). But one has to wonder whether the labor-empowerment theme might have scared off other potential high profile distributors.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  joins Amazon labor organizer Chris Smalls at a rally on the eve of the union election for the LDJ5 Amazon Sort Center on April 24, 2022 in Staten Island, New York. Chris Smalls successfully organized the JFK8 Amazon Fulfillment Center across the street, making it the first Amazon plant to unionize.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joins Amazon labor organizer Chris Smalls at a rally on the eve of the union election for the LDJ5 Amazon Sort Center on April 24, 2022 in Staten Island, New York.

“As automation, surveillance, quotas and anti-unionization efforts become the norm, we set out to make a film that would intimately capture a rare view of the extraordinary efforts of worker-turned-organizers taking action at this crucial moment,” Maing said in a statement. “And while corporate consolidations within the distribution landscape narrow opportunities for bold, independent new work, we are thrilled to self-distribute Union theatrically with the expertise of Michael Tuckman and brilliant impact strategists Red Owl Partners and bring this film directly to film loving audiences as well as the workers and organizers directly impacted by the story of this film.”

Story commented, “The past few years have seen a resurgence of labor struggle and political organizing across generations and across sectors. We were so honored to be on the ground from day one of this exceptional unionization effort, and to be given such intimate access to the Amazon labor organizers, whose unlikely campaign is critically important to the future of the labor. At this moment in American history, this is a film that audiences will be excited to see.”

Union is a Level Ground Productions release, presented by Impact Partners, in association with Ford Foundation. The film is directed and produced by Stephen Maing and Brett Story; produced by Samantha Curley, Mars Verrone, Martin Dicicco. Executive producers include Jenny Raskin, Lauren Haber, Geralyn White Dreyfous, The Villa Family, David Levine, Jessica Grimshaw, Nick Shumaker, and Dawn Olmstead. Co-executive producers are Kesley Koenig, Barbara & Eric Dobkin, Paula Froehle & Steve Cohen, Natasha & David Dolby, Meryl Metni, Pierre Hauser, Peter Palandijian, Chelsea Halligan, Ryan Parker, Alexander Carpenter, and Andrew Neel.

Blair McClendon, Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Stephen Maing edited the film; cinematography is by Martin Dicicco and Stephen Maing. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe composed the score.

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