The 19th-century newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer is credited with being the father of modern journalism—an essential component of democracy.
Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People—a multi-award-winning documentary set to air on the PBS American Masters series starting April 12 and available for streaming all month—tells the rags-to-riches story of 19th-century newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer, widely considered the father of modern journalism.
Directed by Oren Rudavsky and edited by Assistant Professor Ramón Rivera-Moret—who teaches in Film/Animation/Video—the film tells a riveting story of how a penniless Jewish immigrant from Hungary came to challenge President Theodore Roosevelt and fight for freedom of the press as essential to American democracy. (Adam Driver narrates the film, while Liev Schreiber provides Pulitzer’s voice.)
Film critic Leonard Maltin describes Voice of the People as a “straightforward, well-researched documentary, which calls on journalists, biographers, teachers and others to tell its story, accompanied by fascinating visuals.”
And The Hollywood Reporter says of the film, “Summarizing the great strides [Joseph Pulitzer] made for journalism without ignoring his colorful flaws, Voice of the People is an excellent primer, not just on the man but on the birth of the modern newspaper. Whether we’re currently witnessing the newspaper’s last gasps or its transition into something new and wonderful, this film solidly captures an essential moment.”
Rather than constructing a linear narrative, the filmmakers begin with an interview featuring writer Nicholson Baker (who bought the entire World newspaper archive at auction) and ends with a montage of contemporary moments highlighting the importance of journalism in our culture. These unexpected segues are typical of the films Rivera-Moret takes on.
“I’m interested in ways to construct cinematic stories beyond traditional paradigms,” says Rivera-Moret, “including the abstract, the fragment and the small gesture within an open-ended, nonlinear narrative.”
The project was challenging, Rivera-Moret admits, because he had limited archival material with which to build the narrative arc and show the fast-paced world of late 19th-century journalism.
“My task as editor was to bring together the photos, documents and early films we’d collected with a dynamic energy that reflects the creative force behind Pulitzer’s newspaper,” he says. He worked closely with an animator to bring the pages of the newspaper to life, giving viewers the sense of being present as the pages were created
“Pulitzer’s story is very relevant,” Rivera-Moret adds. “When he uncovered a financial scandal involving the construction of the Panama Canal and the Roosevelt administration, he refused to back down even though he risked facing jail time, insisting that not even the president of the United States is above the law.”
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