This Labor Day weekend, Nevada County natives Charlie Hall and Bevin Bell-Hall will premiere “Tales from the Long Memory,” a look into the guiding philosophies and organizations that informed Utah Phillips’ art and activism.
The social justice-oriented documentary on the folk singer will be available online at www.ForAiFilm.com beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, and running through Monday.
Brendan Phillips, Utah Phillips’ son, said “the long memory” refers to his father’s term for humankind’s shared history.
“History is not a linear device,” Brendan Phillips said. “It’s circular and we learn from our ancestors. The future, the past and the present are connected through what we call the long memory.”
Hall said he hopes the film helps its audience understand their experience as part of a collective.
“The great forgetting is the notion that all of a sudden the next generation is starting fresh, that they don’t have the trauma or problems of the previous generation,” Hall said.
The understanding of memory as a tool that can be used and applied in the present and future speaks to the documentary’s purpose, co-producer Bevin Bell-Hall said, who has helped work on the film for over a decade.
“We became part of the long memory that Utah was talking about,” Bell-Hall said. “The stories and the work continue. That’s what Charlie wants to communicate in the film.”
Hall spent a chunk of the last 12 years editing pieces of 100 hours worth of “Loafer’s Glory,” a weekly radio show Utah Phillip’s hosted on KVMR. The resulting audio provides the narration for the forthcoming documentary which focuses on labor, homelessness and poverty.
In 2012, Hall followed Utah Phillips’ footsteps from Nevada County to Salt Lake City, Portland, Detroit and finally, New York City, where Hall and his wife now live.
Bell-Hall said prior to Utah Phillips’ death in 2008, he lived next to her grandparents in Nevada County. Bell-Hall said she remembers listening to “Loafer’s Glory” in her parents’ kitchen as a child. Phillips’ music was one of the few things she and her father had a mutual appreciation for growing up.
“We didn’t agree on things but there was something about Utah, something we could both understand,” Bell-Hall said. “He speaks in a way that is very universal because it comes from the human heart, comes from a place of caring for people, listening to their stories and telling the stories of people who care for others, fight for their rights, sing the songs of the people.
“Folk music is the music of the people.”
Bell-Hall said the documentary examines Phillip’s return from the Korean War and his radical exploration of the self and society.
“He traveled the world as a youth, but when he came back from the war he became a self-proclaimed hobo,” Bell-Hall said. “He had a whole new world view and became an anarcho-pacifist, a strong labor union advocate.”
Hall said as a homeless, transient man himself, Utah Phillips developed an appreciation and respect for social services organizations — like Sisters of the Road Cafe in Portland, Oregon — that treated the disenfranchised like they were humans.
“It wasn’t just about the meal, it was about the moment of dignity,” Hall said.
Utah Phillips helped create Hospitality House after he was inspired by Catholic worker Ammon Hennacy’s Joe Hill House of Hospitality in Salt Lake City.
The housing resource manager for Nevada County, Brendan Phillips, said even though his career path was inspired by his father’s activism he sometimes gets flak from Utah Phillips’ fans for working in the government.
“My dad’s work on Hospitality House is what inspired me to be a part of homelessness efforts in Portland, Oregon; Olympia, Washington; and Nevada City,” Brendan Phillips said. “My dad is a fan of community power, and I am completely in line with that.”
“The government will anesthetize itself from the personal, and to use a feminist thought, the personal is political,” Brendan Phillips said. “Behind each person is a story. I work really hard to encourage and create programs that take the homeless’ perspective into account.”
Hall said although he has submitted to over 100 festivals since saving the final version on FinalCutPro in March, COVID-19 has reduced many festivals’ capacities, which is why he is releasing it online.
“The idea of another Labor Day passing without his friends and families seeing this was too much,” Hall said. “Now, running form fires, the pandemic, the compounded frustration of the pandemic when your neighbor and yourself might be at opposite ends of the political spectrum — the tension in the air is too much.”
“I think this film will bring a little hope.”