Skip to content

Directed by John Hanson, Rob Nilsson

United States 1978 120 mins. In English

In the late 1970s, Rob Nilsson (Northern Lights) and John Hanson visited North Dakota for a series of interviews with labor organizer Henry Martinson, by then in his mid-90s. The resulting film, shot in three parts, explore the legacy of the North Dakota Nonpartisan League, formed in 1916, and the history of socialist organizing in the Midwest. In part one, Prairie Fire, Martinson adds voiceover to images from Nilsson’s grandfather, recounting the formation of the Nonpartisan League; in part two, Rebel Earth, Martinson weaves the story of his earlier homesteading life; in part three, Survivor, Martinson tells humorous tales of his later organizing efforts. Taken together, The Prairie Trilogy forms a vital tale of US socialism, adding complexity to the discourse around this political ideology and shedding light on reasons why so many are increasingly attracted to it. “These films—which were funded, in part, by the North Dakota A.F.L.-C.I.O.—are moving and still pertinent depictions of the human realities that animate labor struggles.”—Glenn Kenny, The New York Times

Genres: Documentary

The Northwest Film Center recognizes and honors the Indigenous peoples of this region on whose ancestral lands the museum now stands. These include the Willamette Tumwater, Clackamas, Kathlemet, Molalla, Multnomah and Watlala Chinook Peoples and the Tualatin Kalapuya who today are part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and many other Native communities who made their homes along the Columbia River. We also want to recognize that Portland today is a community of many diverse Native peoples who continue to live and work here. We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities—past, present, future—and are grateful for their ongoing and vibrant presence.