The Missing Chapter in American Cinema: Independent Social and Political Documentaries of the Thirties
In May 1973 the pioneer film distributor Tom Brandon presented here, for the first time in America, a program of films and commentary on what was then the most neglected chapter in American film history - the little known story of the independent documentary of the thirties, and of the various filmmaking alliances which produced social and political films throughout the depression. Since that initial program, Brandon has finished a book on the subject, presented more and more refined programs of films from the “Missing Chapter” (including a major presentation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York), and gathered together in his personal archive newly rediscovered films and more integral copies of previously available films produced by the Workers' Film and Photo League, Frontier Films, Nykino, and other militant producing groups from the thirties. Both in format and in content, this program on The Missing Chapter in American Cinema will differ substantially from Brandon's initial trial-balloon airing of this material in 1973. To the extent that Brandon's research and first-person presentations of film programs across the country in the last five years have inspired a great many articles on the social and political documentaries of the depression period, the “missing chapter” is being filled in rapidly, but the overall and long-overdue revaluation of the role of the American Cinema in public education is just beginning. An active participant in this film movement of the thirties (one of the founders of the Workers' Film and Photo League, Brandon later distributed the productions of Frontier Films, the major successor to the Film and Photo League in the late thirties), Tom Brandon, through the vehicle of this fascinating program and in his book, remains in the vanguard of film education and militant consciousness-transforming-through-film today. This program will include the following films:
Workers Newsreel--Unemployment Special
A record of the historic mass demonstration of the unemployed on March 6, 1930, in Union Square for government action on immediate relief and jobs.
• Produced by the Workers' Film and Photo League. (1930-31, 10 mins)
The National Hunger March
The surviving film record of the first massive protest against the federal government's and big business' failure to adopt programs to alleviate the starvation and deprivation of 12,000,000 unemployed men, women and youth.
• Produced by the Workers' Film and Photo League. Photographed by Sam Brody, Robert Del Ducca, William Kita, Leo Seltzer, Alfredo Valento and others. Edited by Lester Balog, Robert Del Ducca, Leo Seltzer. (1931, 10 mins)
A news review of mass actions in the streets in the critical Depression years of 1932-34, filmed and edited from the working class point of view.
• Produced by the Film and Photo League. Executive producer, Tom Brandon. Photographed and Edited by Leo Seltzer. (1932-34, 10 mins)
The Ford Massacre (Detroit Workers' Newsreel Special)
The only newsreel coverage of the historic mass march in downtown Detroit on February 4, 1932, against the starvation program of Hoover/Murphy, and the armed, unprovoked attack by Dearborn police and Ford “guards” on unemployed auto workers at the gates of the River Rouge plant.
• Produced by Detroit Film and Photo League. (1932, 8 mins)
Millions of Us
The story of millions of unemployed in the soup kitchen and breadline days vs. the millions still working, personalized in the drama of a young man driven by hunger to become a scab, and whose experiences lead him to recognize his common interests with the strikers and to be converted to trade unionism.
• Produced by American Labor Films. (1934-35, 17 mins)
Pie in the Sky
An improvised satirical and farcical treatment of unemployed who have become drifters and their futile quest for aid from the church - the theme of the old Wobbly song, “Pie in the Sky.” More of interest as a notable experiment in filmmaking than as social history, Pie in the Sky is very funny today as an anarchistic comedy.
• Produced by Nykino. Directed by Elia Kazan, Molly Day Thatcher, Irving Lerner, Ralph Steiner. (1934, 20 mins)
The World Today
A dramatic enactment of two topical events: Sunnyside on the fight against the mortgage companies by the residents of a lower middle class suburb in Sunnyside, L.I., N.Y. and Black Legion, a depiction of the activities of the Black Legion in Michigan and the murder of a WPA worker, Poole, by the Black Legion killer Dean.
• A “People's March of Time” produced by Nykino. The filmmakers and actors include Willard Van Dyke, Ralph Steiner, Irving Lerner, Sidney Meyers, Ben Maddow, and Michael Gordon. (1935, 18 mins)
Men and Dust
An exposé, based on the findings of the Tri-State Survey Committee, of the appalling health conditions and survival problems of the workers in the zinc and lead mining areas at the junction of Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. It shows the fight led by the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union to improve the efforts of mine owners to eliminate silicosis, tuberculosis and lead poisoning.
• Produced by Lee and Sheldon Dick for Dial Films. Narrated by Will Geer, Storrs Haynes, Eric Walz, Robert Porterfield. (1940, 17 mins)
Deadline for Action
A film treatment of transnational corporations in the electrical industry (aspects of U.S. Imperialism) from the trade union point of view.
• Directed by Carl Marzani. (1946, 5 mins (excerpt))
Program, including discussion, will run approximately 3 hours.