Guide to Documentary Films


The Plow That Broke The Plains (Directed by Pare Lorentz) Written and directed by movie-critic-turned-filmmaker Pare Lorentz, The Plow was produced with the support of Rexford Tugwell, the New Deal Under-Secretary of Agriculture. The Plow documents the effects of the 1930s Dust Bowl, concluding that poor stewardship of the land, in part due to the increasing demand for wheat from both the US and Europe, and not Mother Nature, created the Dust Bowl disaster. This contributed to an ongoing debate. Lorentz enlisted the help of the contemporarily noted composer Virgil Thompson and the authoritative voice of Thomas Chalmers to enhance the dry and dusty devastation of the film’s visuals shot by Leo Hurwitz, Ralph Steiner, Paul Strand, and Paul Ivano (three of whom went on to film other powerful documentaries). The cinematic testimony of this film was so powerful that congressmen from the region suppressed the film until the1960s and footage illustrating FDR’s solution for the area was lost for many years. The complete film is available for screening on Film & History’s 2005 CD-ROM (see details at ). Anyone who has seen The Grapes of Wrath or other documentaries on the Dust Bowl has encountered clips from this movie.
Deborah Carmichael Oklahoma State University (and Film & History)


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