Leonard MacTaggart ‘‘Pare’’ Lorentz (December 11, 1905-March 4, 1992) was known as ‘‘FDR’s filmmaker.’’ He was born in Clarksburg. The family moved to Upshur County, where Leonard went one year to Wesleyan College in Buckhannon. He then transferred to West Virginia University, there honing his skills as a storyteller for West Virginia Moonshine magazine. In 1925, he left for New York. Within seven years he had been a movie critic and contributor to many top magazines, including Scribner’s, Vanity Fair, McCall’s and Town and Country.
In 1933, Pare Lorentz conceived, edited, and published The Roosevelt Year: 1933, a pictorial review of FDR’s first year in the White House. In 1935, he was contracted by the U.S. Resettlement Administration to create a motion picture about the New Deal. The result was a classic, The Plow That Broke the Plains, a 30-minute documentary that ran in movie theaters across the country. In 1937, he shot and edited The River, once again creating an emotional representation of environmental problems and what the administration was doing about them.
Roosevelt appointed Lorentz head of the short-lived U.S. Film Service in 1938. Lorentz joined the Army Air Corps and made hundreds of training films for World War II pilots flying previously uncharted routes around the world. His last film, Nuremberg, was assembled from millions of feet of captured Nazi film and news footage to educate Germans about the rise of the Nazi Party.
Pare Lorentz lived in Armonk, New York, until his death. His ashes were interred to the sound of bagpipes at the family cemetery in Upshur County. Lorentz was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1946 and the first Lifetime Achievement Award by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History in 1990. In 1997, the International Documentary Association created the Pare Lorentz Award to honor the best documentary film of the year.
This Article was written by Bill Drennen
Last Revised on November 13, 2012
Barnouw, Erik. Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.
Lorentz, Pare. FDR's Moviemaker. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1992.
Lorentz, Pare. Videotape interview by author. Cultural Conversations. Charleston: West Virginia Library Commission, Mar. 1990.