During the American Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) incorporated four arts programs as part of the New Deal. One of those programs was the Federal Writers’ Project, which would employ over 6,600 people across the 48 states to produce a comprehensive portrait of America through state travel guides. But the writers – among them, the late Studs Terkel (who is seen here in one of his last interviews), Saul Bellow and Stetson Kennedy – dug too deeply for some in documenting the real America, with some of the histories revealing truths some in power would have preferred to be kept hidden. ‘I could write my whole will on a postage stamp,’ reads one oral history. ‘Why should I sing ‘My country, ’tis of thee?” Narrated by Patricia Clarkson, with archive stills and footage artfully rendered, this is a captivating reminder of how the written word can indeed reflect the soul of a people.
Partners: Spark Media (Washington) for Smithsonian Networks, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities; distributed through Smithsonian Networks (US) and Off the Fence (International)
Airing: September, 2009, Smithsonian Channel
Length: 2 x 60 minutes
Rights available: All worldwide except North America