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The Manhattan Front, by Cathy Lee Crane

The Manhattan Front, by Cathy Lee Crane

The Manhattan Front

Polyvinyl films presents and Los Angeles Filmforum co-sponsors the Los Angeles premiere of

The Manhattan Front, by Cathy Lee Crane

Thursday, November 7, 2019, 7:00pm

At Arena Cinelounge, 6464 Sunset Blvd, Lobby level, Los Angeles CA 90028

Los Angeles premiere.  Cathy Lee Crane in person.

Free admission, RSVP at Eventbrite at

In the signature style of filmmaker Cathy Lee Crane, her feature-length film blends fiction and rarely seen archival footage from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to conjure the fantastically true story of how America entered WWI. Through vibrant characters like labor leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and German naval officer Franz von Rintelen, along with issues of radical labor politics, munitions production, surveillance of citizens, and the domestic effects of war, Crane’s unique aesthetic of fact and fiction unmasking each other unlocks hidden histories held in the archive.

The Manhattan Front made its World Festival Premiere at the SFIndie Fest in 2018.

“Cathy Lee Crane is one the most interesting filmmakers in the tradition of the avant-garde working in the United States today. Her films succeed in developing within a feminist perspective a very personal poetics. This film's narrative complexity is based on the absurdities of the world as it is. The pastiche of early color techniques is the most successful I have ever seen. I would say this is Crane's masterpiece." – NOËL BURCH, co-director with Thom Anderson of Red Hollywood and co-director with Allan Sekula of The Forgotten Space

"She is our feminist Godard"– BARBARA HAMMER, lesbian film pioneer
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The Manhattan Front

The Manhattan Front

By Cathy Lee Crane

2018, digital, color, sound, 88 min.

Once upon a time, in 1915, a German saboteur arrived to Manhattan to interrupt the export of American munitions to Britain. He soon finds a collaborator in a wayward stevedore who unwittingly leads him to a group of labor anarchists. Sabotage and betrayal soon turn these bedfellows into agents of the other’s tragic end. In the spirit of a silent film from the era, this musical melodrama plays itself out through the interaction of archival images and the theatrical rendition of lives as they might have been lived on The Manhattan Front.

The Manhattan Front is Cathy Lee Crane’s debut feature-length fiction film concerned with an over-looked chapter of American history.  Its core impulse for the director came from a very personal question: “Who might my maternal great-grandmother have been?”

When the U.S. entered World War I, a butcher in the Bronx adopted Crane’s maternal grandmother at the age of three. Extensive research into the lives of women in Manhattan from 1914-1917 led to the discovery that during this period of U.S. neutrality, the Great War was being waged on what German Naval Officer von Rintelen described as The Manhattan Front.

The film’s visual style of staged live action material is designed as if were the playing ground of a child’s dollhouse. The film could be said to be the story of the First World War as told by a little girl playing. Any one of its female protagonists could later become anyone’s great-grandmother.

The film’s value to the present derives from Barbara Tuchman’s idea of the distant mirror: we look back to history because something in the present needs to be seen anew.  Issues of progressive labor politics, munitions production, surveillance of citizens, and domestic effects of war are still pressing concerns.

Continuing her unique aesthetic that combines staged and archival material, this film furthers Crane’s investigation into the manner by which fact and fiction unmask each other; an ongoing inquiry into hidden histories held in the archive.