UC Berkeley Library

Documentaries on the 1930's

People's Century: Total War, 1939.

The Second World War was the first modern conflict in which millions more civilians died than soldiers. In this film, eyewitnesses from Britain, Germany, Russia, Korea, Japan and the United States tell the story of the civilians who suffered and died. Residents of Plymouth, Tokyo, and Hamburg remember the air raids; Russian peasants recall the siege of Leningrad; Japanese soldiers and Korean slave-laborers describe the brutality of war in Asia.

Period Films of the Great Depression.

Contents: Financing the American family / Household Finance (1935, 11 min.) -- Frontiers of the future / National Industrial Council (1937, 10 min.) -- Griffith Park relief workers demonstration (1933, 3 min.) -- San Francisco General strike (1934, 3 min.) -- Valley town / producer, New York University (1940, 25 min.). Financing the American family: Household Finance sponsored this film to educate struggling families on how obtaining a low-cost loan from their corporation to help families get out of debt.

Public Enemy #1

Chronicles the life of John Dillinger, from his first youthful brush with the law to his death a decade later in a hail of bullets. It explores how, at a time of great hardship, Americans felt more admiration for a daring criminal than their seemingly ineffectual institutions of government. c2002. 60 min.

Riding the Rails

The Depression forced some four million Americans onto the tracks in search of work, food and lodging. Of these "tramps," more than 250,000 were children. Seamlessly interweaving archival footage, personal photos and interviews, this film relates the experiences and sometimes painful recollections of these now elderly survivors of the rails. Directed, written & produced by Michael Uys and Lexy Lovell 1997. 73 min.

Robert Altman's Jazz '34

Performers: Jesse Davis, David "Fathead" Newman, Ron Carter, Christian McBride, Tyrone Clarke, Don Byron, Russell Malone, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, James Carter, Craig Handy, David Murray, Joshua Redman, Curtis Fowlkes, Clark Gayton, Olu Dara, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, Kevin Mahogany. Contemporary jazz musicians recreate an all-night jam session as it might have happened in a 1930's Kansas City club. 1996. 75 min.


While not looking the part, Seabiscuit was one of the most remarkable thoroughbred racehorses in history. In the 1930s, when Americans longed to escape the grim realities of Depression-era life, four men turned Seabiscuit into a national hero. Directed by Stephen Ives. Originally produced as an episode of the television program American experience 2003. 60 min.

Surviving the Dust Bowl

Featuring poignant interviews with witnesses and remarkable archival film footage and photographs, this documentary tells the heart-wrenching personal stories of people who endured a series of almost Biblical scourges, from drought and famine to the "black blizzards." America's worst ecological disaster finally came to an end after soil conservation techniques were introduced. Originally produced as a segment of the television program, The American experience. c1998. 57 min.

The Call of the Jitterbug

Documentary on the jitterbug and lindy hop, a dance craze that swept the nation beginning in Harlem in the 1930s. Delilah Jackson, Mama Lu Parks, George Lloyd, Sugar Sullivan-Niles, Frank Manning, Sandra Gibson, and musicians Bill Dillard and Dizzy Gillespie also reminisce about dancing at the Savoy Ballroom and other popular clubs, which are seen in historical film footage. Parks and Manning are shown teaching the dance, which continues to be performed in clubs and on stage. c1988. 35 min. ;

The Century: America's Time.

With Peter Jennings; produced by ABC News in association with The History Channel. Part 3: 1920-1929: Boom to Bust. In the aftermath of World War I, many modern-minded Americans, particularly women, were eager to do away with outdated traditions and claim new rights and freedoms. This program investigates the culture of the roaring twenties--women's suffrage, prohibition, the exploration of the Antarctic, the Scopes trial, the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan, the new music called "Jazz", technological innovations and finally the stock market crash and the subsequent economic depression.

The Civilian Conservation Corp

Interweaving rich archival imagery with the personal accounts of Civilian Conservation Corps veterans, this film tells the story of one of the boldest and most popular New Deal experiments, positioning it as a pivotal moment in the emergence of modern environmentalism and federal unemployment relief. Written, produced, and directed by Robert Stone. Originally broadcast on PBS as the television program American Experience in 2009. 60 min.