• PA History Film List

    While not every film listed here will be used throughout the course of the semester, parents and families are welcome to contact Mr Huesken will any questions or concerns about a particular film being looked at in class as part of our course film study. Films are selected based on their relevence to the course content and curriculum and are usually incorperated into a larger class discussion, debate, project, or unit assessment at their conclusion.

  • My Tale of Two Cities

    by Carl Kurlander (Director) Year Published: 2008

    Screenwriter (St. Elmo's Fire) and TV writer/producer (Saved By The Bell) Carl Kurlander was living in Hollywood when he received an offer to go back to his hometown and teach at the University of Pittsburgh. In search for a more meaningful and balanced life for himself and his family, Carl decided to move back to Pittsburgh, the real life "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Shortly after, Fred Rogers died, and the city of Pittsburgh declared itself "financially distressed." With both himself and his hometown in a mid-life crisis, Kurlander set out on a Don Quixote quest to make a film to help the place where he grew up. Armed with a cranky cameraman, funded by his dermatologist, and often battling his wife, who longs to return to the sunny West Coast, Carl asks his neighbors from the famous (Franco Harris, Teresa Heinz Kerry) to the not-so-famous (his old gym teacher, the girl who inspired St. Elmo's Fire) how this once great industrial giant, which built America with its steel, conquered...

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  • 1971

    by Johanna Hamilton (Director) Year Published: 2014

    On March 8th, 1971, eight ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office in Media, PA. Calling themselves the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, they removed every file in the office. Mailed anonymously, the stolen documents started to show up in newsrooms. The heist yielded a trove of damning evidence. The most significant revelation was COINTELPRO, a controversial, secret, illegal surveillance program overseen by lifelong Bureau director J. Edgar Hoover. Despite one of the largest investigations ever conducted, the FBI was unable to catch the burglars. Those responsible have never revealed their identities. Until now. For the first time the burglars have decided to speak about their actions. 1971 is their story, examining the consequences and implications of their actions - then and now.

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  • Brother Outsider: The Life of Baynard Rustin

    by Nancy Kates & Bennett Singer (Directors) Year Published: 2003

    During his 60-year career as an activist, organizer and "troublemaker," Bayard Rustin formulated many of the strategies that propelled the American civil rights movement. His passionate belief in Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence drew Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders to him in the 1940's and 50's; his practice of those beliefs drew the attention of the FBI and police. In 1963, Rustin brought his unique skills to the crowning glory of his civil rights career: his work organizing the March on Washington, the biggest protest America had ever seen. But his open homosexuality forced him to remain in the background, marking him again and again as a "brother outsider." Brother Outsider: the Life of Bayard Rustin combines rare archival footage — some of it never before broadcast in the U.S. — with provocative interviews to illuminate the life and work of a forgotten prophet of social change. Update: On August 8, 2013, President Barack Obama named Bayard Rustin a posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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  • The Molly Maguires

    by Martin Ritt Year Published: 1970

    Irish immigrant coal workers rebel against the harsh company policies in a Pennsylvania coal town. The company hires Pinkerton detective James McParlan (Richard Harris) to infiltrate the rank and file workers and report back on any union activity. Their leader is Jack Kehoe (Sean Connery), the tough Irish organizer who stands up to the company when he asks for a decent suit of clothes for the funeral of a co-worker. The Molly Maguires is the secret society of miners that seeks to right the wrongs of the unjust and callous owners of the company. McParlan tries to join the gang, but Jack is suspicious of the visitor. The two gain mutual respect for each other despite being on different sides, and McParlan even rescues a union member from certain death. The gang carries on an underground war against the evil forces of the cold-hearted company.

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  • Braddock America

    by Gabriella Kessler & Jean-Loïc Portron (Directors) Year Published: 2013

    An enormously powerful portrait of a once-mighty steel town eviscerated by the closure of its factories, Gabriella Kessler and Jean-Loïc Portron's BRADDOCK AMERICA is both a finely detailed investigation into a specific community and a reflection on the fate of so many similar towns throughout the United States. Part of a recent wave of documentaries about disaster-stricken, post-industrial American cities, BRADDOCK AMERICA distinguishes itself by the degree of its commitment and its refusal to fetishize urban ruin. It features archival footage of Braddock in its heyday, fly-on-the-wall observation of city council meetings, protest gatherings, police patrols, and other aspects of the town's daily life, and most importantly, expansive interviews with Braddock's residents. Their unapologetically emotional, remarkably candid testimony makes BRADDOCK AMERICA an unforgettable document of post-industrial America.

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  • The Town That Was

    by Chris Perkel (co-director), Georgie Roland (co-director) Year Published: 2007

    Filmmakers Chris Perkel and Georgie Roland offer an affecting and informative portrait of a Centralia, PA, a once-thriving mining town that caught fire back in 1962, and has been burning out of control ever since. It started as a simple trash fire, but the flames ignited a seam of anthracite coal just beneath the earth's surface. Over 20 years later, suffocating clouds of smoke and deadly carbon monoxide gas were still billowing from fissures in the ground, and the local population had been reduced from 1600 to about eleven. Lethargic after struggling to quell the flames to no avail, the government was only pressed into action after a young boy nearly perished by falling into a smoldering mine subsidence. Even then, the government scoffed at the cost of extinguishing the fire, instead opting to relocate the town's entire population and raze the local buildings. Today, the youngest resident in Centralia is John Lokitis, a man who has dedicated his entire life to keeping his hometown alive, even as it's ashes swirl all around him. While Centralia may have been forgotten by most, it is still John's home, and he looks forward to the day it will thrive again. Additional interviews with historians, politicians, former residents, and geographical scholars provide additional insight into the town known to some as the "real" Silent Hill.

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  • Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?

    by John Edginton (Director) Year Published: 1998

    African-American journalist and political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal has become one of the leading "cause celebres" of the political left since his conviction for the murder of a white police officer in a 1981 shooting in Philadelphia. Abu-Jamal has stubbornly proclaimed his innocence ever since his arrest, but has never provided an explanation for what occurred when he was found shot only a few feet from the fallen officer. While Abu-Jamal waits on death row, activists have called for a new trial, pointing out major inconsistencies and irregularities in the conduct of his trial and the evidence which was presented. This documentary, produced for HBO and presented her in expanded form, examines the case and asks: is this man a murderer, or a political prisoner?

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  • Iron Jawed Angels

    by Katja von Garnier (Director) Year Published: 2004

    German filmmaker Katja von Garnier directs the HBO original movie Iron Jawed Angels, inspired by a pivotal chapter in American history. Hilary Swank plays Alice Paul, an American feminist who risked her life to fight for women's citizenship and the right to vote. She founded the separatist National Woman's Party and wrote the first equal rights amendment to be presented before Congress. Together with social reformer Lucy Burns (Frances O'Connor), Paul struggled against conservative forces in order to pass the 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States. One of their first actions was a parade on President Woodrow Wilson's (Bob Gunton) inauguration day. The suffragettes also encountered opposition from the old guard of the National American Women's Suffrage Association, Carrie Chapman Catt (Anjelica Huston). The activists get arrested and go on a well-publicized hunger strike, where their refusal to eat earns them the title of "the iron-jawed angels." Iron Jawed Angels was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 before its television premiere on HBO

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  • Gettysburg

    by Ron Maxwell (Director) Year Published: 1993

    The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara becomes this sprawling historical epic. As in Shaara's novel, director Ronald Maxwell focuses on a handful of major players to dramatize the events of July 1863, when the armies of the Union and Confederacy clash at the small Pennsylvania town of the title. Among them are Martin Sheen as General Robert E. Lee, who disagrees with his top advisor, General James Longstreet (Tom Berenger) over battle strategy, and Jeff Daniels as Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a college professor whose unorthodox techniques save the day (and possibly the war) for his beleaguered army. Other cast standouts include Richard Jordan in his final film appearance as the ill-fated General Lewis Armistead, and cameo roles for Civil War buff Ken Burns and media mogul producer Ted Turner. Filmed on-location at Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg was shot as a television miniseries for Turner's TNT cable channel, but earned a limited theatrical release.

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  • Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin's Bones

    by Kate Thomas-Couth (Director) Year Published: 2015

    Why were skeletons found in the basement of Ben Franklin's home in England? Scientists investigate the people who lived at the house at the time, including a professor of medicine.

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  • Secrets of the Dead: Death on the Railroad

    by Keith Farrell (Director) Year Published: 2013

    Has the 150-year-old mystery behind the deaths of 57 Irish immigrants who came to Pennsylvania to work on the railroad finally been resolved?

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  • Won't You Be My Neighbor?

    by Morgan Neville (Director) Year Published: 2018

    From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won't You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America's favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination.

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  • American Experience: The Johnstown Flood

    by Mark Bussler (Director) Year Published: 1992

    Exploding dam kills thousands in massive flood catastrophe in Pennsylvania in 1889.

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  • Let the Fire Burn

    by Jason Osder (Director) Year Published: 2015

    In the astonishingly gripping Let the Fire Burn, director Jason Osder has crafted that rarest of cinematic objects: a found-footage film that unfurls with the tension of a great thriller. On May 13, 1985, a longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and controversial radical urban group MOVE came to a deadly climax. By order of local authorities, police dropped military-grade explosives onto a MOVE-occupied rowhouse. TV cameras captured the conflagration that quickly escalated-and resulted in the tragic deaths of eleven people (including five children) and the destruction of 61 homes. It was only later discovered that authorities decided to "...let the fire burn." Using only archival news coverage and interviews, first-time filmmaker Osder has brought to life one of the most tumultuous and largely forgotten clashes between government and citizens in modern American history.

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  • Invincible

    by Ericson Core (Director) Year Published: 2006

    This is the true story of Vince Papale, who became a member of the Philadelphia Eagles football team as a 30-year-old in an open tryout. He is the oldest rookie to make an NFL team (excluding kickers) who never played college ball.

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  • American Experience: The Battle of Chosin

    by Randall MacLowry (Director) Year Published: 2016

    Revisiting this pivotal 1950 Korean war battle through the eyewitness accounts of Participants / Veterans who were present for this first major military clash of the Cold War. An amazingly harrowing story of the 17 day engagement of bloody combat and heroic survival in subartic temperatures. UN forces largely outnumbered and surrounded, due to a surprise attack led by 120,000 Chinese troops. Also featured; insights from historians, and archival footage.

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