The River

Dir. Pare Lorentz, 1938, 32 min.

Written and directed by Pare Lorentz for the U.S. Farm Security Administration, The River is a follow-up to Lorentz's groundbreaking documentary of the previous year, The Plow That Broke the Plains. The River was fully funded and promoted by the Roosevelt administration, and it achieved wide distribution through Paramount. Striking photography and rhythmically insistent editing tell the story of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, their tendency to flood their banks regularly and with great destructive force, and the American grit and ingenuity that tamed the river valley and turned it into a productive, power-generating landscape. The River suffers from a weak, if hopeful, finale—as with all such stories, the problem is more dramatic and visually arresting than the solution. But at its best, Lorentz's film became a model for the new documentary cinema of social advocacy.

The Plow That Broke the Plains

Dir. Pare Lorentz, 1936, 25 min.

A Government-sponsored documentary, Pare Lorentz won praise and wide recognition for using sensitive photography, dramatic editing and a beautiful score by composer Virgil Thomson to illuminate a local problem of national importance – the challenges faced by wheat farmers and cattle ranchers in the Great Plains. As the film climaxes in a vivid portrait of the record drought that produced the dust bowl and the plight of the "blown out, baked and broke" people who felt its impact, it becomes clear that a new master of the documentary form has found his voice.