These pages have provided a brief discussion of documentary film in the 1930s, focused most intently on the collective known as Frontier Films. It is amazing that in a time of such hardship some of the best dramatic and real-life footage of American people, society, and emotion was captured. The history of the left-wing production company is likewise intriguing, as is the personal biographies of those individuals behind the camera, dedicated to presenting social problems in the hope of sparking feeling and action in the viewer.
William Alexander asked the question twenty years ago "Why should we revive the films made by the Workers Film and Photo League, by Kline, by Van Dyke, by Lorentz, by Nykino and Frontier Films, and by Ivens? What value and relevance do they have today?" The answer lies in the communities formed by these individuals and groups; communities that were committed to improving the "deprived and disenfranchised" and to involve people in social and political themes that may be unfamiliar, but by no means unimportant. 1
From the people living in the Cumberland, to the mill workers in Pennsylvania, to the crowds in New York, and the farm family in Ohio, Frontier Films preserved the faces, events, and feelings of depression-era people. The point cannot be stressed enough that it is our responsibility to preserve these works for future generations, as well as for ourselves, for the themes and struggles presented are relevant even today. Hunger and poverty still abound, as does the ever-present fear of machines ruling man and the ideals of America being subverted by outside forces. Most importantly, however, is the emotion that is still brought to life by these films that led the way to a new frontier in human documentary.
1Alexander, William. Film on the Left. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press., 1981. (295-6).