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Pioneering documentary filmmaker Leo Hurwitz, who helped to found Frontier Films, the first nonprofit documentary production company in the United States, died at 81 on this date in 1991. A victim of the McCarthy blacklist during the 1950s and ’60s, he nevertheless managed to make fifteen documentary films, including Native Land (1942) about American labor struggles in the 1930s, which was narrated by Paul Robeson, with music by Marc Blitzstein. Hurwitz also made Heart of Spain (1937), a film about the Spanish Civil War, Strange Victory (1947), about post-war racism and anti-Semitism in the U.S., and Verdict for Tomorrow, about the Eichmann trial, which won Emmy and Peabody Awards. (Hurwitz coordinated CBS’s television coverage of that trial.) In the mid-1960s he was among seven directors who sued their union, the Directors Guild of America, to remove a loyalty oath from its membership application. The directors won in the Supreme Court. From 1969 to 1974, Hurwitz was professor of film at New York University. His work has been shown in retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, the Public Theater, and the Cinemathique Francaise in Paris.
“My father was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to a family of immigrants and somehow got the idea to take the test for the one scholarship that was given in the New York area to Harvard University. And he took the test. It was a Harvard Club Scholarship and he won it. So he went to Harvard.” —Tom Hurwitz, cinematographer