INTERVIEW WITH LORA HAYS
DEPARTMENT OF FILM AND MEDIA
THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
APRIL 14, 2005
Ivens’ film POWER AND THE LAND was edited by his colleague
Helen Van Dongen assisted by Lora Hays -- a young apprentice
editor. Today, at 94 she continues to edit, teach and produce.
Lora Hays has been a leading film editor
in the United States for over half a century. But, while
editing has been the major focus of her career, she also
produces short films. In addition she is an inspiring teacher
of film editing at New York University. Although Hays has
edited features and narratives, her first love is editing
social issue documentaries. She has worked for television
networks, independents, the US Government and produced her
In April 2005 I met with Lora Hays in New
York to discuss her first major editing assignment –
working as an assistant to Helen Van Dongen on the early
American classic documentary POWER AND THE LAND (1940) directed
by Joris Ivens.
How did you get this assignment?
I had been around film for
some time working in New York with Jean Lenauer and Julian
Roffman who at that time were making a series DATELINE which
played theatrically. I helped with the cutting. Through
them I met Pare Lorentz who in turn introduced me to Joris
What was it like working on this
Van Dongen had edited other films for Ivens and basically
I was her gohfer. She was unusually difficult to work with.
It was hard work. At night I massaged her back. But I learned
a tremendous amount from her. We did the editing in Washington,
DC in three months in the summer of 1939, a very hot summer.
Ivens came periodically to check on the editing. Sometimes
Helen went down the hall to another editing room to work
with Robert and Frances Flaherty as she was supervising
the cutting of their film THE LAND, also being produced
for the US Department of Agriculture. Neither Douglas Moore,
the composer, nor Stephen Vincent Benet, the writer played
any role in the editing. From the outtakes, Ivens made several
short films such as BIP GOES TO TOWN and WORST OF FARM DISASTERS.
I edited these alone at the Deluxe Lab in New York while
Ivens was in California telephoning me his instructions.
What was reaction to the finished
AND THE LAND opened in 1940 in St. Clairsville, Ohio. The
townspeople loved it and loved seeing themselves on the
screen.The US Department of Agriculture was very pleased
with the film. They were particularly happy that it played
on Broadway (although it was in a former porn house). [The
critical approval which the film received brought it to
RKO’s attention. They shipped 100 prints to nearly
5,000 theaters which meant that it played to thousands of
farmers who came away with a new realization of what electricity
could mean to them.]