Native Land

A fascinating relic from 1942, codirected, cowritten, and partially shot by the great still photographer Paul Strand in collaboration with Leo Hurwitz. Narrated by Paul Robeson and with a score by Marc Blitzstein, this documentary feature uses newsreel footage, still photographs, and extended reenactments to dramatize the findings of the U.S. Senate’s La Follette Committee regarding union busting and corporate labor spying; more generally, it’s concerned with everyday violations of the Bill of Rights that most citizens knew (and know) nothing about, including those fostered in the south by the Ku Klux Klan. Made over a three-year period, this is the most ambitious work of Strand’s Frontier Films collective, but because it was released shortly after Pearl Harbor, its impact was severely blunted, which discouraged Strand from doing further work in film. If you subscribe, as I do, to the notion that the most dated films are often the ones that have the most to teach us about their respective periods, you shouldn’t miss this singular work. 88 min. (JR)

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