Native Land: Documentary, Modernism, Populism

Native Land (1942) is a film that was very much of its time, but one that missed its moment. It was a product of the American Left during the New Deal/Popular Front era, but it was not completed until after the Hitler-Stalin pact and America's entry into World War Two. To get across its message about the repression of trade union organisation, it combines newsreel material by the Workers Film and Photo League and original documentary footage with didactic fictional reenactments by professional actors. Among those involved in its production were Paul Strand, one of the twentieth century's great still photographers, the director and theorist Leo Hurwitz, and, as narrator, the singer and activist Paul Robeson. Native Land captures a unique historical moment that takes on a new resonance in an era of renewed populism on both right and left.

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