LEO HURWITZ

Leo Hurwitz

Leo Hurwitz after opening of Native Land, 1942.
  • The Scottsboro Boys 1933
  • Sweet Land of Liberty 1935
  • The Plow That Broke the Plains 1936
  • China Strikes Back 1938
  • Native Land 1942

  • "The Revolutionary Film--Next Step" by Hurwitz

    Leo Hurwitz's father came to America from Russia in 1898 and worked in Philadelphia and New York until he could bring his family across the sea. The youngest of eight children, Leo was born in Brooklyn in 1909 and grew up learning socialism from his father. On scholarship he attended Harvard where he studied Chaplin, avant-garde film and Soviet film makers. In 1930 he became assistant editor of Creative Art and began taking still and moving pictures. Soon he met Jay Leyda, Paul Strand, and Ralph Steiner and in late 1931 joined the Film and Photo League. The suffering of the Depression fueled Hurwitz's desire to promote social action. He writes that in the early 1930s

    there were 16 million people without jobs. They had been suddenly shaken loose from a much-publicized prosperity. The breadlines grew day by day. An army of apple sellers--who had previously been carpenters, garmet workers, storekeepers--appeared on street corners and in front of subway stations. Homeless men built shanty-towns in Central Park and on the edges of the city. When you put your hand in your pocket and you can touch your total savings, your life is revealed as not the private thing it seemed before. It becomes connected with others who share your problem. 1

    Hurwitz began making films such as Scottsboro Boys while teaching at the Harry Alan Potamkin Film School. He was also an editor of the New Theatre magazine. With Steiner and Irving he split from the Film and Photo League to form Nykino and went on to become vice president of Frontier Films. After Frontier Films, Hurwitz continued to make films including Strange Victory in 1948 and The Specialist in 1961.

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    1Alexander, William. Film on the Left. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press., 1981. (17).