While the debates among the GOP contenders in the current presidential race might lead one to believe that extreme rhetoric on the subject of immigration is some sort of highly infectious modern malady, the truth is that blaming a land’s most recent crop of migrants – from within or without – for all its socioeconomic woes is a sport nearly as old as humankind. Still, it’s a subject generating plenty of heat and little light these days, and so a fitting focus for the Winter 2016 Documentary Film Series at the Henry A. Wallace Center at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Home in Hyde Park. “Immigration, Migration and the American Dream” unspools this Saturday afternoon and evening.
It’s also an inspired choice for a presentation by the department of the FDR Library known as the Pare Lorentz Center, named after the groundbreaking documentarian, social activist and critic of censorship who became known as “FDR’s filmmaker.” His first film funded by the New Deal’s Resettlement Administration is also one of his most famous: The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936). With a lush score by Virgil Thomson that has become a modern orchestral classic, it’s as essential a component of America’s collective memory of the Dust Bowl and subsequent mass migration of Oklahomans to California as Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or the songs of Woody Guthrie.
A 3 p.m. screening of The Plow that Broke the Plains, plus a new seven-minute biopic about Lorentz, kicks off the filmfest this Saturday, February 6. It will be followed at 4 p.m. by a more contemporary documentary in a similar vein: Farmingville, Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini’s 2004 account of the aftermath of a violent hate crime against two Mexican day laborers in a suburban Long Island community.
There will be a dinner break from 6 to 7 p.m. Then the mood will lighten with a screening of Charlie Chaplin’s 1917 short silent romantic comedy The Immigrant, in which the Little Tramp, newly arrived in America, is unjustly accused of theft. It’s followed by Jesse Moss’s 2014 Sundance Special Jury Award-winning feature documentary The Overnighters (2014), which deals with the hostility that a pastor in the small boomtown of Williston, North Dakota encounters from his community when he houses itinerant oilfield workers in his church.
Between films, CUNY professor and critic Seth Shire will offer commentary and engage the audience in brief discussion. This event is free and open to the public, and seating is first-come, first-served. The Wallace Center at the FDR Library and Museum is located at 4079 Albany Post Road (Route 9) in Hyde Park. For more info about the Winter 2016 Documentary Film Series and other programming at the FDR historic site, call (800) 337-8474 or visit www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu.