Chief, Motion Picture Branch,
Office of Military Government, U.S.
Pare Lorentz is renowned as the man who produced, wrote and directed the groundbreaking documentary films, The Plough That Broke the Plains, The River, and The Fight For Life, during the 1930’s.As these films were made under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with the enthusiastic support of President Roosevelt, he is sometimes referred to as ‘FDR’s Filmmaker.’
Lorentz worked tirelessly not only on making the films, but also on gaining theatrical release for them. He faced opposition at first, especially from Hollywood theatre owners who were sceptical about the appeal of documentary films to general audiences. The films proved extremely popular, however. Lorentz entertained hopes of creating a permanent government film bureau to make many more documentary films; but, despite Roosevelt’s support, his initiative failed, due to both government and Hollywood discomfort with the idea of more government-funded filmmaking.
During the war, Lorentz served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force, making navigational films and filming bombing missions. After the war, he served as chief of the Film, Theatre, Music section of the War Department’s Civil Affairs Division. When plans were developed to make a film about the Nuremberg Trial, Lorentz took charge on behalf of the War Department. He faced tremendous opposition from General Lucius Clay’s Military Government staff, headquartered in Berlin, who argued that they should control the making of the film.
Lorentz eventually managed to impose Stuart Schulberg, his choice of the man to write and produce Nuremberg, and sent him to Berlin to carry out the job. Lorentz faced bureaucratic and funding challenges throughout the time that Schulberg worked on the film in Berlin, and eventually resigned from the project and from the War Department in frustration in May 1947, a year before the film was completed.
Two years later, when he realized the War Department was quashing the film’s release in the United States, he appealed to government officials for permission to purchase and release the film himself. His offer was refused. He never made another film.
Pare Lorentz died in 1992, at age 87.