‘The Cummington Story’ Tells Story of Refugees and Their New Community

In researching documentary history, I look for mentions of women who have contributed to the developments and growth of the form. One name I found was Helen Grayson, who co-directed The Cummington Story with Larry Madison in 1945.

The Cummington Story is a short about the integration of World War II refugees into a town called Cummington, Massachusetts. The documentary is one part of a fourteen-part series produced by the U.S. Information Service Motion Picture Bureau.

This short consists primarily of recreations and voiceover. The recreations show an idyllic small-town life, with country stores and family farms. Institutions such as the local church and the town hall figure as well. Both play key roles in building and participating in the community.

The voiceover offers an interesting change from documentaries of that time. Instead of the third-person, omniscient narrator, The Cummington Story uses the town’s pastor as the voice in the community. The pastor offers both an insider’s perspective and a distanced one of the situation, helping bridge the changes that occur when refugees from Europe arrive and shelter in the town for a while.

The documentary follows a familiar arc, with the townspeople being wary of the refugees at first. Scenes in the general store show the locals ignoring the new arrivals. With the pastor’s intervention, some refugees find work in their crafts. The short mentions a few refugees by name, such as Joseph, Peter, Max, and Sasha, but the narration speaks about and for them. These men are more like the townsfolk than they are different.

As the refugees become more part of the community, with one family even opening a store, they become more accepted by the locals. At the end, the refugee Joseph announces his leaving to return home and rebuild his country.

Every documentary represents its nation either unintentionally or overtly. Not surprisingly, The Cummington Story pushes a favorable vision of nation. Though the short represents some tensions, they are not threatening, and they will be overcome in time.

‘Come Worry with Us!’ Brings a New Sense of Style

Come Worry with Us! is Helene Klodawsky’s 2013 portrait of the Montreal-based group Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra.

This beautifully shot documentary reveals a band in transition. It focuses mostly on Jessica Moss and Efrim Menuck, whose new son Ezra has forced them to re-examine their careers, their gender roles, and their lives. As a group working outside mainstream supports and constraints, the group struggles but persists. Costs keep rising, and the decision to bring Ezra on tour with them pushes costs up even more. Yet the band members remain determined to share the income equally.

Klodawsky’s documentary follows the band on its tour and in performances. Moss and Menuck bring Ezra on one, six-week tour, but for a shorter, eight-day trip Ezra remains with his grandmother. Ezra’s presence affects everyone on the bus, but the other band members seem to enjoy having him around.

More so, though, this documentary offers the bandmates’ meditations on deep issues, and Klodawsky employs an interesting take on the interview to explore them. Instead of the lone talking head, two people engage in conversations. The pairings include different combinations of band members, but many interviews pair Moss with her best friend, her sister, and others close to her. These women often talk about the balances of being parents and having careers.

Along with the interview approach, I appreciated the visual style of this documentary. Titles introduce key pieces of the band’s history and philosophies, and the cinematography’s combination of blurs, zooms, and varying shot frames add visual interest.

While Come Worry with Us! does feature some music from the group, this documentary is more about the group’s changing life roles and the changing music industry, particularly in terms of the relationship between independent musicians and the increasing dominance of the global music industry.