Reel Life Stories: Documentary Film and Video Collections
in the UC Berkeley Library's Media Resources Center

Origins of Documentary Film:
The New Deal Filmmakers

The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)
A Film by Pare Lorenz

Plow That Broke the Plains was Pare Lorenz’s first film, and also the first U.S. Government sponsored documentary (produced under the auspices of US Department of Agriculture’s Resettlement Administration). It presents the problems of wheat production and cattle ranching in the Great Plains and culminates in the record drought which produced the Dust Bowl. In Plow That Broke the Plains Lorenz uses a poetic script and score to reveal the plight of the people struggling to survive, lives ‘blown out, baked and broke.’

Cinematography by Leo Hurwitz, Paul Ivano, Ralph Steiner, Paul Strand; original score by Virgil Thomson. Media Resources Center: Video/C 5060

Power and the Land (1936)
A Film by Joris Ivens

Joris Ivens was commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to film the benefits of rural electrification. The film provides an engaging portrait of an American (The Parkinson’s) family in the post-Depression USA. It documents the life of this farm family before and after the coming of electrical power to the town. Media Resources Center: Video/C 5060

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Last updated 5/2/03.