Roosevelt, New Jersey: Visions of Utopia (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 17, Number 4, December 1987
- p. 96
- Additional Information
Film Review Roosevelt, New Jersey: Visions of Utopia produced by Richard Kroehling and Laura Nathanson and directed by Richard Kroehling. Color film/video, 52 minutes. 1983. Distributed by The Cinema Guild (1697 Broadway, New York, NY 10019). In Roosevelt, New Jersey: Visions of Utopia, Richard Kroehling and Laura Nathanson craft an affectionate and often affecting portrait of the 120 families of New York City Jewish garment workers who moved to rural New Jersey in the midst of the Great Depression to create an industrial and agricultural cooperative community. Funds from the New Deal's resettlement Administration built the Bauhaus-style homes, the farms, and the coat factory that made up the community, which was known originally as Jersey Homesteads . One of its earliest and most famous residents was Ben Shahn, who painted a famous mural tribute to immigrant workers on a local elementary school wall. The film, which is very nicely shot and edited, uses the standard techniques of the oral history film genre-old film footage intermixed with stills and contemporary interview footage. A few of the filmic strategies-reunions of old comrades and people commenting on photo albums, for example-have become clichéd from overuse by similar films. At times, Roosevelt, New Jersey veers too much toward the uncritical nostalgia that is another hazard of oral history documentaries. "Life here was just wonderful," says a woman near the end of the film in a line that could have (and has) appeared in any number of films and oral history interviews. Fortunately, the filmmakers also include a fascinating segment that deals with some of the conflicts over the principles and practice of cooperative living that ultimately broke apart the community. The film should prove effective in history courses on the 1930s, on immigration , and on Utopian experiments as well as sociology courses dealing with community life. Teachers, however, should be prepared to provide some of the historical context-on the New Deal, 1930s trade unionism, and especially the politics of the Popular Front-that is not always adequately laid out in the film. In addition, they should be ready for student questions about the demise of the community-a topic that the film gives surprisingly cursory treatment. Roy Rosenzweig George Mason University 96 ...