Workers Film and Photo League Newsreels

May 21, 2015

Co-presented with MayWorks
16mm film prints
Introduced by Kraig Schwartz

MayWorks is a month-long festival (throughout the month of May) that celebrates labor culture and history in Washington State. This archival film program celebrates the history of worker rights by diving into a lost canon of worker-made films from the 1930s.

While the nation reeled from the Great Depression, a group of artists and activists harnessed the moving image in response, forming the Workers Film and Photo League of America.

The League democratized the silver screen, bringing cameras to witness the protests and marches that would be glossed over by mainstream newsreels (and later by historical hindsight of the era.) The people of the Great Depression weren’t passively waiting in orderly soup lines; they were taking to the streets to protest disparities of wealth and mistreatment of the working classes. 

These events were captured in short films, produced and distributed by the League, which reveal the raw truth of the Great Depression, as it was experienced: mass demonstration and brutal violence. Marchers were killed at the steps of Ford Motor. The US Army used tanks to dispel protestors in Washington.

This is a side of American history willfully ignored. Even at the time of producing these films, the League was hard-pressed to find distribution outside worker gatherings. Before Twitter, hacktivists and the 24-hour news cycle, the Film and Photo League produced powerful citizen media, but ultimately folded within a decade. 

Thankfully, their stories remain.  In the many years since, the films that survived have maintained an obscure role outside the mainstream, the price for capturing something uncomfortably, yet unassailably, true about America.

Special ticket pricing: $6 general admission.


The National Hunger March 
(1931, 16mm, 11 mins)

Detroit Workers News Special: Ford Massacre
(1932, 16mm, 7 mins)

America Today / The World in Review, Film and Photo League
(1932-34, 16mm, 11 mins)

Bonus March 1932, Film and Photo League
(1932, 16mm, 12 mins)

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