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Note: This post may contain spoilers.

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.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh is a documentary blogger and mass media professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Follow her on Twitter @documentarysite.