“A Curious and True and Dramatic Film”: John Steinbeck’s ‘The Forgotten Village’

The Forgotten Village (1941)

During UCLA’s 2011 Festival of Preservation, Jeffrey Bickel presented a beautifully restored print of a little-known John Steinbeck film: The Forgotten Village (1941). I was deeply touched by the film’s poignant depiction of poverty and generational conflict, as well as the naturalistic, almost raw quality of the cinematography and performances, anticipating post-WWII Italian Neorealism films such as De Sica’s Ladri di biciclette (1948). Unable to shake the power of the film’s message, I became inspired to research the genesis of the film, its role in Steinbeck’s career, and its place in American history. I never could have imagined the wide variety of commercial motivations and political agendas that shaped every frame of the film. —Jessica Fowler

The Forgotten Village is an ethnographic documentary centered on a small, poverty-stricken community in rural Mexico. The film showcases the struggle of one young man, Juan Diego, as he tries to persuade the elders of his village to embrace modern medical technology and put an end to the dangerous healing ceremonies of the past. Despite being classified as a documentary, The Forgotten Village is in fact a highly fictionalized piece of propaganda that was intended to strengthen the bond between the United States and Central and South America against the growing Nazi threat in the early 1940s. Written by John Steinbeck, the film began production amid increasing anxiety regarding the conflict overseas and the potential impact on the Western Hemisphere. Continue reading ““A Curious and True and Dramatic Film”: John Steinbeck’s ‘The Forgotten Village’” »