The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest English-Language Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
The bread we eat and the milk we drink depend on Bill and Hazel Parkinson . . . and their farm and how they’re making out.
Produced by the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Power and the Land opens with a long shot of rural America: a great expanse of sky beneath which trees and a house appear tiny. Birds fly through. Brilliant Dutch documentarian Joris Ivens holds the shot long enough so we take in the pertinent fact: No power lines interrupt this vast, open space. Why? Voiceover commentary—this is, otherwise, almost entirely a silent film—explains, “Power companies want a profit,” and this they can make in cities but not in the country, where returns cannot overcome the cost to them for equipment and service. “The farms are left in the dark—[in 1940,] three out of four farms are left in the dark in this big, inventive country. Seems wrong somehow.”
In 1935, the REA was set up to remedy this situation by offering low-interest loans to cooperatives of farmers, who then collectively own the means for generating power they themselves have bought and installed. An Ohioan family whom the film chronicles, the Parkinsons, become members of the Belmont Electric Cooperative. First, the film shows the daily hardships that the want of electricity imposes. A passage shows farmers in the area harvesting corn together; this spirit of cooperation at work leads to the formation of their electric cooperative, to make work easier. The film then catalogs numerous ways in which electricity makes life easier for Bill and Hazel Parkinson and their children.
Hearteningly, Power and the Land thus finds a space in American life (already inhabited by the U.S. postal service) amenable to socialist ideas.
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