Many documentary filmmakers during the Depression era made films that were motivated by a social justice imperative. Like the social realist painters, the Workers Film and Photo League, a collective of left-wing American filmmakers, sought to capture the harsh reality of poverty and the struggles of everyday life. This excerpt from a documentary about a national workers' march to Washington, D.C., is an example of how filmmakers attempted to publicize and ennoble the struggles of the poor and the work of activists. In the second video, Leo Seltzer, a prolific social documentary filmmaker and one of the founders of the Workers Film and Photo League, describes how such films brought important information to communities that would otherwise not have had access to it.
Suggested Activities: Have your students watch the National Hunger March footage and the interview excerpt and discuss the following questions: What do you learn about the National Hunger March from this footage? Is the footage sympathetic to the marchers? How can you tell? Does the footage remind you of any documentary or news footage you have seen about contemporary events?
Comparison exercise: Invite your students to choose another work from this kit and create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the National Hunger March excerpt with other media included in this kit. How is a documentary film like a mural in its aim to bring ideas or attitudes into the public arena? How is a documentary film like a work of abstract art in its ability to focus on select details and angles? How is it like a piece of music as it works with the element of time, rather than with a still or static image?
Invite your students to create a work of art in the tradition of social realism, or to describe the work of art they would like to create. It may be a film, photographs, a song, a drawing, or a painting. Have students explain where their work of art would be displayed or distributed. Ask students to describe how they were informed or inspired by works in this kit in the creation of their own art.