Sam Brody & Irving Lerner
Sam Brody and Irving Lerner (with camera) clowning
on location for W.I.R.'s Children's Camp New York 1931.

Sam Brody was among the first New York cameramen to assemble as a group in early 1930, along with Robert Del Duca, Lester Balog, and Harry Alan Potamkin. Brody was born in 1907 to Russian-Jewish parents and lived in Paris from age four to thirteen before moving to New York. His father was a trade union activist and Brody soon joined the Young Worker's League and the John Reed Club. Brody worked for the Japanese Worker's Camera Club before becoming a central figure and promotional writer for the New York Film and Photo League, his work appearing in The Daily Worker, New Masses, and Experimental Cinema. He was cameraman for National Hunger March in 1932 and later obtained footage for Bonus March. Yet unlike Hurwitz and others, Brody viewed film not as an art form but as a means for political purposes only. After Hurwitz, Lerner, Steiner, and others departed the Film and Photo League, the group dispersed and Brody left to support his family by doing still photography and then camera work for Federal Theatre, Writers, and Arts Projects.

Irving Lerner (Peter Ellis) also grew up in a Russian family with leftists ideals. He was an anthropology major at Columbia University in 1929 and supported himself by compiling bibliographies and taking still photos for the college. When he was assigned to film dancers in Harlem, his classmate Margaret Mead showed him the basics. In 1931 he joined the Film and Photo League in order to use a camera in a political atmosphere. He covered the May Day Celebration and the W.I.R. Young Pioneer Camp. Lerner wrote reviews and film news for numerous journals while also doing still photography. In 1935 he was a strong supporter of Nykino, believing that the Film and Photo League's newsreels had been "formless and as poorly made as the commercial reel." 1 Lerner was also a part of Frontier Films, assisting in the editing of films such as China Strikes Back, yet his participation became less and less until his departure in 1938. The years following he was cameraman for Robert Flaherty on The Land, in charge of the Educational Film Institute of New York University, edited Van Dyke's Valley Town, The Children Must Learn, To Hear Your Banjo Play, Here is Tomorrow, and John Ferno's and Julian Roffman's And So They Live.

Tom Brandon was born in Philadelphia and after being forced out of college due to lack of money, held odd jobs such as milk truck driver, amateur boxer, and professional prizefighter. In 1931 he came into contact with the Film and Photo League and with Lewis Jacobs, drove south to make a film on the Scottsboro boys and then one on the mining strikes in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Serving as League secretary, Brandon was invaluable for seeking funds, making travel arrangements, acquiring equipment, and circulating films as head of the W.I.R. Film Division. As Alexander writes, although "not a filmmaker himself, Brandon was a key figure in left film production, promotion, and distribution for the rest of the decade." 2 Brandon was also responsible for founding Garrison Films in 1932 and with Van Dyke helped to produce Tall Tales in 1941.

Sidney Meyers (Robert Stebbins) was born to Jewish immigrant parents in New York in 1906. Meyers's father was a socialist, who disliked the fact that his son did not become a lawyer or doctor. Like Lionel Berman, Meyers also attended De Witt Clinton High School where he was successful at playing the violin, performing for the Cincinnati Symphony in later years. In 1930 he married Edna Ocko. Through Ocko he met Lionel Berman who urged Meyers to give up the violin for film making. Meyers joined the Film and Photo League as a still photographer and then moved into film. He also wrote film reviews and was an editor for New Theatre. His work includes China Strikes Back, People of the Cumberland, and The Quiet One. He died in 1969.
Sidney Meyers
Sidney Meyers, 1940s.

David Platt was also the son of a Russian immigrant and grew up in Philadelphia, where he met Harry Alan Potamkin, Lewis Jacobs, and Seymour Stern, his future co-editors on Experimental Cinema. Platt joined the Film and Photo League in 1933, becoming executive secretary and teacher at the Potamkin school, while also working as stenographer and film reviewer for Experimental Cinema until he eventually became film critic for the The Daily Worker in 1935.

Lewis Jacobs was an art student in Philadelphia yet soon found an intense interest in making films on social issues modeled after the Soviet films he had viewed. Jacobs made several short experimental films and was founding editor of Experimental Cinema in 1930. Jacobs moved to New York and joined the Film and Photo League in 1931, while also working for a film trailer company. In 1933 the footage he had obtained during lunch hours was made into As I Walk, a look at the horrific day to day poverty of the city.

Lionel Berman
Lionel Berman, early 1930s.

Lionel Berman was born to Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants in 1906, his father also a socialist who left Russia for Brooklyn. Berman was influenced by Countee Cullen whom he met at De Witt Clinton High School. Although Berman went on to study advertising at New York University, Henri Cartier-Bresson, whom he met in Paris in 1929, urged him to leave advertising for film. An attack of scarlet fever as a child left Berman with nephritis, a disease of the liver, and because of his chain-smoking he had to beware of the nitrate film. Alexander writes that Berman became an "important spirit in [the League], a fund-raiser, a participant and advisor on many of the films to come, a man alert and dedicated to the politics of the far left" until his death in 1968. 3

Leo Seltzer also came from a Russian immigrant family that moved to Canada in 1909. A year later Leo was born in Montreal, where he remained until entering the United States in 1918. Seltzer attended public schools, then studied electrical engineering and art. Explaining how he became part of the Film and Photo League, Seltzer writes:

[I] heard about a cultural center where there was an art class taught, photography groups, and so on. And I started the art classes. This headquarters was just being built, and they needed lights to illuminate the model. I knew a little bit about electricity, so I installed the lights. Next door was a darkroom, and they needed someone to put in lights there. So I went over and put in lights, and the whole thing looked so intriguing to me, I stayed.

Seltzer taught at the Potamkin school, worked as still photographer, is credited for the re-editing of National Hunger March, and for his work on Bonus March, Marine, and May Day. He went on to work as film maker for the WPA.

Jay Leyda (Eugene Hill) from Ohio, worked as assistant to Ralph Steiner and made the experimental film A Bronx Morning, which brought him a fellowship to the Soviet Union from 1933-1936. It is likely he was predominantly in the photography division of the Film and Photo League, yet when he returned he became part of the Nykino group, working full-time as assistant curator of the Museum of Modern Art film library. Leyda published articles on film, was on the editorial board of Films and stayed with Frontier Films after Nykino. He is credited for his work on China Strikes Back and People of the Cumberland.

Ben Maddow
Ben Maddow (left), William Watts, and Fred Johnson
on location for Native Land 1942.

Ben Maddow (David Forrest, David Wolff) was born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1909 also to a Jewish immigrant family. He attended Columbia University, studying biophysics and literature. After college he held odd jobs, working as a hospital orderly and a social investigator. Drawn to poetry to express the human suffering he witnessed, his poems were published in Poetry, Symposium, New Masses, and Dynamo. His film credits include China Strikes Back, Heart of Spain, Native Land, People of the Cumberland, Return to Life, and Valley Town.

Steiner Strand Ivens VanDyke Kline Hurwitz Others Back to Biographies

1Alexander, William. Film on the Left. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press., 1981. (125).
2Alexander. Film. (11).
3Alexander. Film. (82).