In anticipation of our next proposal for the Criterion Collection, MMC! will lead the way a series of “Son of Wholphin” posts focusing on a group of short films that will set a path to and through our next feature subject. We start with People of the Cumberland, a documentary short from 1937 directed by Elia Kazan, William Watts, Eugene Hill (credited as Jay Leyda), and Sidney Meyers (credited as Eugene Hill). The film concerns a progressive adult education project, Myles Horton’s Highlander Folk School, located in the mountain community of Monteagle, Tennessee. Demonstrating the School’s impact on the impoverished coal mining region, the short pivots toward the growing labour movement and advocates for a “new kind of America” free from economic exploitation and privation. The film was made under the auspices of the Work Projects Administration, a New Deal agency, and as part of the Federal Arts Project program. Written by Erskine Caldwell and Ben Maddow (credited as David Wolff), the short is an excellent document of its time and a rousingly populist essay thanks to the narration of Richard Blaine and the footage shot by Ralph Steiner.
In 1974, the International Women’s Year, the NFB established Studio D, a film studio dedicated to female filmmakers that became one of the Board’s most successful units. Studio D became the victim of budget cuts in 1996, but the NFB’s commitment to feminist films continued, announcing in 2016 a gender-parity initiative dedicating half of the Board’s productions and half of its funding to female filmmakers (a balance the NFB was close to achieving without the formal pledge anyways). Included here are two of Studio D’s most appreciated works – If You Love This Planet (1982), Terre Nash’s powerful depiction of Dr. Helen Caldicott cut against medical footage of Hiroshima survivors, nuclear test stock footage, and Cold War Hollywood movies (starring Ronald Reagan); and Flamenco at 5:15 (Cynthia Scott, 1983), an observational rumination on youth, tutelage, physicality, and flamenco’s theatrical impact.
As per the NFB:
This Oscar®-winning short film is comprised of a lecture given to students by outspoken nuclear critic Dr. Helen Caldicott, president of Physicians for Social Responsibility in the USA. Her message is clear: disarmament cannot be postponed. Archival footage of the bombing of Hiroshima and images of its survivors seven months after the attack heighten the urgency of her message.
As per the NFB:
This Oscar®-winning short film is an impressionistic record of a flamenco dance class given to senior students of the National Ballet School of Canada by two great teachers from Spain, Susana and Antonio Robledo. The film shows the beautiful young North American dancers—inspired by the flamenco rhythms and mesmerized by Susana’s extraordinary energy—joyously merging with an ancient gypsy culture.