• RKO Radio Picture
  • 1940
  • Produced for Rural Electrification Administration, US Department of Agriculture
  • Directed by Joris Ivens
  • Commentary by Stephen Vincent Benet
  • Music by Douglas Moore
  • Photography by Floyd Crosby (ASC) Arthur Ornity
  • Narrator William Padams
  • Script by Edwin Locke
  • Editor Helen Van Dongen

  • Power and The Land
    Ivens with Mrs. Parkinson


    In St. Clairesville, Ohio, the William Parkinson family uses kerosene lamps, a water pump, a wood stove, a horse-drawn plow, and an outhouse for their daily routine on the farm. They are raising food for a nation and do not even have sufficient cooling mechanisms to keep the milk fresh. "Hard working people deserve the best tools man can make," the film states.

    With help from the government, communities are installing power lines for American farms, providing tractors, stoves, running water, refrigeration, electric wood saws, washing machines, irons, and radios for the working class.


    Barsam writes: "Power and the Land documents the tedious daily routine on the Parkinsons' nonelectrified farm in Ohio. It follows a parallel structure, so that every problem presented in the first part of the film is followed by a solution in the second part." 1 This parallel structure is not exactly parallel syntagma for the film does not alternate between scenes of the farm with power and without, yet the emphasis on the American typical family finding relief by electricity is not compromised.

    Power and the Land
    A still of a barn scene Ivens did not include.

    The family was real, comprised of non-actors who were asked to reenact daily life on the farm. The sequences are episodic, beginning with milking the cows before the sun rises by lamp light. Each separate farm activity is a scene, divided into episodes by fades and transitions to the power poles being erected. Unlike The City, bracket syntagmas are not used. The film is a simple, chronological presentation with excellent photography.

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    1 Barsam, Richard M. Non-Fiction Film: A Critical History. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1973. (144).