Leo T. Hurwitz

Active - 1942 - 1991  |   Born - Jun 23, 1909   |   Died - Jan 18, 1991   |   Genres - Drama, History [nf], Language & Literature [nf]

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American producer/ cameraman and writer Leo T. Hurwitz played an important role in the development of the documentary film genre. Educated at Harvard, he started out in film in the early 1930s and was closely associated with the innovative Film and Photo League until 1937 when he helped found Pioneer Films, the first U.S. nonprofit production company to focus on making independent documentaries. Pioneer Films, with such directors as Paul Lorenz, Ralph Steiner, Willard Van Dyke and others with whom Hurwitz collaborated turned out several historically important chronicles of the times like Heart of Spain a look at the Spanish Civil War, and Native Land, an examination of U.S. labor struggles. One of Hurwitz's most important films was The Plow That Broke the Plains, a chilling chronicle of life in the Dust Bowl that he co-wrote and photographed. Hurwitz worked closely with the Office of War Information and the British Information Service during WWII. In the late 1940s, he began producing and directing news events and specials for the fledgling CBS television. Politically, Hurwitz was a liberal. In 1948, his chronicle of racism in postwar America, Strange Victory won him international awards and acclaim, but perhaps it didn't do much for his career in the U.S., for he was blacklisted from the '50s through the early '60s. That didn't stop Hurwitz, who kept on directing, co-producing and editing -- with no credit -- on the CBS show Omnibus. He earned both an Emmy and a Peabody for his 1961 documentary of the Adolf Eichmann trial Verdict for Tomorrow. In the late 1960s, Hurwitz became a professor of film and served as NYU's Chairman of the Graduate Institute of Film and Television until 1974. In 1981, Hurwitz's poetic epic tribute to his late wife and frequent collaborator Peggy Lawson (d. 1971), Dialogue with a Woman Departed won him an International Film Critics prize.

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