History Piece

 
Introduction


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Background
Dr. Ephraim K. Smith, working through Heritage Productions and with the assistance of outside consultants (including Detroit Public Television), produced Power for the Parkinsons (56:46). Smith, in addition to being an independent film producer, has been a Professor of History at California State University, Fresno since 1966. His earlier documentary productions include The Historic J. E. Crosby Mint Still (55 minutes, 2001), and American Mint (2002), a four-hour documentary on the American peppermint and spearmint industry and the history of mint-flavored gum and candy. In 2002, American Mint (Part 2) received a Bronze Telly for “Education (for academic use).” In 2003, a thirty-one minute pilot of Power for the Parkinsons received a Silver Telly for “Education (for academic use)” and a second Telly for “History/Biography.”

At California State University, Fresno, Dr. Smith teaches courses on producing historical documentaries and on the history of non-fiction film. He has a particular interest in the films produced by the United States Government during the FDR years. They include The Plow, produced by Pare Lorentz for the Resettlement Administration in 1936; The River, produced by Lorentz for the Farm Security Administration in 1937; and Power and the Land, produced by the United States Film Service for the Rural Electrification Administration in 1940 and directed by Joris Ivens.

Smith particularly enjoyed the story in Power and the Land of the Bill and Hazel Parkinson farm in Warnock, Ohio. Bill and Hazel had four sons (Dan, Jake, Tom, and Bip) and a daughter (Ruth). Shooting took place in the summer and early fall of 1939. For Ivens, this was a rare opportunity to use non-actors in what he hoped would be a feature-length film. The Parkinsons, following directions from Ivens, allowed themselves to filmed doing their typical farm and household chores both (according to the script) before and after the arrival of electricity. Power and the Land, which had its premier at the Old Trail Theater in nearby St. Clairsville in 1940, was subsequently shown to million of American farmers. It was the film, Smith argues, that helped electrify the American farm.


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