The World in Review and America Today is one of the key works in creating the American social documentary film, this 1934 newsreel compilation crams a lot of information into just 11 minutes. Skillfully edited, the picture captures a panorama of international events centered on the labor movement. Scenes include Mussolini, Hitler and FDR preparing for war, Nazi soldiers persecuting German Jews, a political strike in Paris, the Scottsboro demonstration in Washington, DC, police violence against striking steelworkers in Pennsylvania and union members stopping scab workers from delivering milk during a dairy farmers strike in Wisconsin. Under the direction of pioneering documentarian Leo Hurwitz, the images are edited together to create a powerful image of a world that, in his view, desperately needed radical change.
The World in Review and America Today is one of several films distributed by the Worker’s Film and Photo League. Inspired by the documentary photography movement in Germany in the late 1920s, the League documented political demonstrations and strikes for the U.S.’s left-wing press. It was founded in New York City in l930 and quickly spread to other cities. Their work was shown at union meetings and even in outdoor screenings at night. Since establishment newspapers did little to spread information on left wing and union activities, those screenings provided an invaluable means of keeping workers up to date on what was happening around the world. Their rare theatrical screenings usually occurred in art houses before European or Soviet films. The New York chapter disbanded in 1934, though some of its members moved on to create their own documentary production companies.
Hurwitz was one of their most prolific alumni. He came by his politics naturally as the youngest child of the anarchist Solomon Hurwitz, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Ukraine before Leo was born. The younger Hurwitz graduated Harvard to enter a world ravaged by the Great Depression, eventually finding work as a magazine editor. A lover of film, particularly the early Soviet experiments in montage, he turned to documentary making to counter what he felt was the biased treatment of left-wing causes in the media. That led to his involvement with the Worker’s Film and Photo League. Eventually, he tired of the League’s purely ideological focus and with like-minded members, founded NYKino, an organization dedicated to documenting left-wing issues with no sacrifice of aesthetic values.
In 1936, NYKino would become Frontier Films, the U.S.’s first non-profit dedicated to making documentaries. With two of his colleagues, photographers Paul Strand and Ralph Steiner, Hurwitz worked on Pare Lorentz’s pioneering film, The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936), then he and Strand edited Heart of Spain (1937) about the Spanish Civil War, afterwards they directed Native Land (1942), a look back at labor issues in the U.S. during the Depression. After work for the Office of War Information and other government organizations during World War II, he directed Strange Victory (1948), a look at racism in America. Because of his progressive politics, he was blacklisted in the 1950s, but continued working without credit, most notably for the television series “Omnibus.” With the end of the blacklist, he directed television coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, winning an Emmy and a Peabody Award for his television documentary on the trial, Verdict for Tomorrow (1961). Later in that decade, he joined with other directors to sue the Directors Guild in a case that ended the inclusion of a loyalty oath in the Guild’s membership application. He was chairman of the Graduate Department of Film and Television at NYU, 1969-74.
By: Frank Miller
With additions and corrections by the Leo Hurwitz website
Copied from this.
Film and Photo League, Workers International Relief
6 minutes (surviving)
Produced by the
Film and Photo League
Workers International Relief
Director: Leo Hurwitz