Directed by Cal Skaggs • Documentary • 2012 • 56 minutes
Working for Change explores the birth of the social documentary, featuring interviews with several of the people who helped define and shape the form.
While newsreels carried novelty and feel-good stories, left-leaning filmmakers such as Leo Hurwitz and Leo Seltzer founded the Workers Film and Photo League - an organization devoted to sounding the alarm on economic conditions, and to show Americans what life was really like for both urban and rural poor. While their films did not get regular distribution, the WFPL team were tireless in booking churches, halls and any other venues they could find to hold screenings - and were known to travel with a projector hooked up to a car battery.
The mood changed after Roosevelt's election and the advent of the New Deal. The administration agreed to fund Pare Lorentz's classic The Plow That Broke the Plains, about the dust bowl. The film was a box office hit, and led to Lorentz's follow-up, The River, which highlighted problems of flooding and erosion.
In the UK, films such as Housing Problems, Night Mail, and Coal Face, demonstrated the importance of working people in maintaining the well-oiled, highly-functional social machine of British society. These early documentaries showed working and poor people as human beings for the first time. Featuring interviews with several members of the first wave of documentary filmmaking, as well as contributions from historians and critics, and a wealth of footage from the early social documentaries, Working for Change is essential viewing for anyone interested in film history, and the power of media as a voice for truth-telling.
"What a great idea ... About nonfiction filmmaking, but that's just the through-line... This series is a new way of looking at history." —Tom Roston, DOC SOUP