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European American Studies Research Guide: Films


A compilation of documentary and feature film resources about European immigrants to the United States.

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Course Reserves

Faculty may place videos on course reserve.  This will keep videos intended for course use in the library for student viewing.  Faculty may be able to arrange special permission to check out the reserved video for a classroom showing by contacting the DMC.


Selected Resources

All films are located in the Digital and Multimedia Center unless otherwise indicated.  Movies can be checked out unless reserved for a class.

The Basket (1999) / North By Northwest Entertainment ; produced and directed by Rich Cowan ; screenplay, Don Caron, Rich Cowan, Frank Swoboda, Tessa Swoboda.  Santa Monica, CA : MGM Home Entertainment, c2001.  1 DVD videodisc (104 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1995.9.B29 B375 2001 VideoDVD : The Basket, set in the United States during World War I, is a quiet family film about tolerance and basketball. German orphans Helmut and Brigitta are adopted by the pastor in the tiny farming town of Waterville, Washington. The people of Waterville are suspicious--both of the new "Huns" in town and new schoolteacher Mr. Conlon (Peter Coyote). Conlon sets the town abuzz by teaching (gasp!) German opera and showing his students a new game from the east called basketball. Can the small-town hayseeds beat the juggernaut team, the Spokane Spartans? Will Helmut get to play? And what about that new tractor everybody wants? The Basket doesn't generate quite the excitement of, say, Hoosiers, but it is not a bad movie at all and is beautifully shot, to boot. It's also a great way to teach kids that it isn't as easy as you might think to spot the bad guys.

Far and Away (1992)  / Imagine Films Entertainment ; produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard ; directed by Ron Howard ; screenplay by Bob Dolman.  Universal City, CA : Universal Home Video, c1998.  1 DVD videodisc (140 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in. PN1997 .F373 1998 VideoDVD : A poor young Irish man immigrates to the United States along with the daughter of a wealthy land owner.  Cast : Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Thomas Gibson, Colm Meaney.

Finnish American Lives (1982) / Northern Michigan University ; producer/director Michael Loukinen. Marquette, Mich. : NMU : distributed by U.P. North Films, c1984. 1 VHS videocassette (58 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. F575.F5 F56 1984 Videocassette : A multigenerational portrait of the Vuorenmaa family, a Finnish-American family living in rural Ironwood, Michigan. Focuses on the stories of the ninety-two-year-old grandfather and his daughter-in-law. Observes them as they go about their daily routines, showing how their heritage is being preserved by their children, and includes recollections of the grandfather after his death. Archival photos depict their early years in the United States as well as images of Finland in the past.  Trailer and related items.

Five Points gangs  / produced by Tim Evans.  New York : History Channel : A & E Television Networks : New Video Group [distributor], c1997.  1 DVD videodisc (50 min.) : sd., col. with b&w sequences ; 4 3/4 in.  HV6452.N7 F58 1997 VideoDVD : Examines the Five Points area of Manhattan, NY, which in the 1840's became the birthplace of American gang activity. Looks at the rise of organized crime from its humble beginnings with the Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants. Important personalities that are covered include "Big Tim" Sullivan, Paul Kelly, "Monk" Eastman, "Dopey Benny" Fein, Frankie Yale, and Al Capone.

Five Points: New York’s Irish Working Class in the 1850s  / American Social History Project ; directed by Joshua Brown and Stephen Brier ; written by Josh Brown.  New York : American Social History Project, [2006?]    1 DVD videodisc (app. 20 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.   F128.9.I6 F5 2006 VideoDVD  New York’s Five Points, the most notorious urban slum of the antebellum period, is seen through the conflicting perspectives of a native-born Protestant reformer and an immigrant Irish-Catholic family. Members of the Mulvahill family describe daily life in a complicated neighborhood, contradicting nineteenth-century stereotypes about the immigrant poor.  Viewer's guide and trailer

Gangs of New York / Miramax Films presents a Martin Scorsese picture an Alberto Grimaldi production ; producers, Alberto Grimaldi, Harvey Weinstein ; screenplay writers, Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan ; director, Martin Scorsese.  Burbank, CA : Miramax Home Entertainment : Distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2002. 1 Blu-ray DVD videodisc (ca. 166 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1995.9.I67 G36 2008 Blu-ray VideoDVD : In 1846, waves of Irish immigrants poured into the New York neighborhood of Five Points. "Billy the Butcher" bands his fellow "Native Americans" into a gang to take on the Irish gang "The Dead Rabbits," organized by Priest Vallon. After an bloody clash Vallon is dead and his son ends up in a brutal reform school. In 1862, that boy returns to seek vengeance against the man that killed his father.  Cast : Leonardo Dicaprio, Daniel Day Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson.

Golden Door (2007) / Miramax Films and Martin Scorsese, Alexandre Mallet-Guy and Fabrizio Mosca present a Memento Films production, Titti Film Respiro production in co-production with Arte France Titti Film Respiro (Firm); a film written and directed by Emanuele Crialese. Burbank, CA : Miramax Home Entertainment : Distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, [2008], c2007.  1 DVD videodisc (ca. 118 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1995.9.H5 G65346 2008 VideoDVD : Swiping its title from the inscription on the Statue of Liberty ("I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"), Emanuele Crialese's third film manages to be epic and quirky at the same time. In most coming-to-America stories set during the turn-of-the century, a prologue establishes the central character's birthplace. Then, he boards a ship. In the next scene, he disembarks on American soil. The rest of the movie concerns his (or her) efforts to adjust to a new culture. Crialese ditches that last part altogether. Instead, he builds his entire narrative around the Mancuso family’s journey from Sicily to New York. First, he introduces the deeply superstitious clan. Feisty matriarch Fortunata  is a healer. Her son, Salvatore, is a widowed farmer with two sons and a vivid imagination. Informed that America's vegetables are as big as men and that California's rivers are made of milk, Salvatore becomes obsessed with these images. While boarding the steamer to the States, he meets well-born Englishwoman Lucy. She takes a shine to Salvatore, who keeps an eye on her throughout the voyage. Once they land at Ellis Island, the new arrivals realize their journey is far from over. There are medical inspections and intelligence tests, and those found wanting will be deported. Crialese concludes with one of Salvatore's imaginings writ large--suffice to say, it concerns milk. With the late Vincent Schiavelli as a marriage broker.

The Greek Americans courtesy of PBS and WLIW21 Video.  Originally broadcast on November 4, 2009.  55 minutes : The ongoing odyssey of the Greek-American experience -- a story inspired by the muses and infused with an enthusiasm of mythic proportions -- is explored in The Greek Americans. This tribute to Greek culture and tradition shares the collective memory of an extraordinary group, from the untiring efforts of the first Greeks to land on American shores to some of their most famous American achievers.

The Greek Americans Part II : Passing the Torch courtesy of PBS and WLIW21 Video.  Originally broadcast on November 3, 2009.  53 minutes : Explores how the modern Greek-American experience has ignited a cultural identity that burns brighter than ever before.

Hester Street (1974) / Midwest Film Production, Inc. ; produced by Raphael D. Silver ; directed by Joan Micklin Silver ; screenplay by Joan Micklin Silver.  New York, NY : First Run Features Home Video : [Jewish Media Fund, 1997]  1 VHS videocassette (89 min.) : sd., b&w ; 1/2 in. PN1995.9.J46 H47 1997 Vidoecassette : Russian Jewish immigrants, Jake and Gitl, encounter trials and tribulations as they discard their old world traditions and adjust to life in New York's Lower East Side in 1896.

Homelands : Greece   courtesy of PBS and WLIW21 Video.  Originally broadcast on November 3, 2009.   51 minutes : The film examines the pull of the homeland for Greeks across miles and generations.

The Immigrant Experience  : the Long, Long Journey / written and directed by Joan Micklin Silver ; produced by Linda Gottlieb.  St. Louis, MO : Phoenix Learning Group, [2007], c1972.  1 DVD videodisc (29 min.) : sd., col. with b&w sequences ; 4 3/4 in. E184.P7 I44x 2007 VideoDVD : Dramatization with narrated sequences. Seventeenth in a series on events that shaped the American nation. This segment focuses on the problems and dreams of new immigrants in America by telling about an uprooted Polish family who came to the U.S. through Ellis Island through the eyes of the boy Janek. Shows how they lived at the beginning of the 20th century. Janek the man looks at drams of a lifetime being realized through his grandchildren.

Irish Americans : May the Road Rise to Greet You courtesy of PBS and WLIW21 Video.  Originally broadcast on November 3, 2009.   56 minutes : A nostalgic look back, telling the story of the Irish experience in America.

Irish Chicago (2009) (1:26 min).  WTTW documentary.

The Italian Americans / production of WLIW New York ; producers, Roman Brygider [and others] ; director, Roman Brygider ; writer, Sam Toperoff.  Silver Spring, MD : Acorn Media, [2004], ©2004.  2 DVD videodiscs (approximately 242 min.) : sound, color ; 4 3/4 in. ROVI Movie Collection CM8 D0049333 VideoDVD  discs 1-2 : In this two-disc set that introduces the history of Italian Americans, interviews with authors, historians, and those whose families immigrated to the U.S. help trace the immigrant experience, which includes accounts of long, difficult ocean voyages; job hardships; abysmal living conditions; and more. Newspaper articles, archival footage, and family photos accent the coverage, showing that despite hardships, many immigrant families began laying down roots and achieving success. This absorbing presentation captivates viewers not only because of the archival photographs and footage but because of the personal stories, such as that of Amadeo Giannini, who set up a temporary bank to help victims following the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Interviews with such well-known Italian Americans as Tony Bennett, Gay Talese, and John Turturro accentuate facts about “those who played vital roles in helping to shape a unique Italian American identity and transform American life and culture.”   Film cover.  Contents: Italian Americans -- Italian Americans II: a beautiful song -- Italian passion for life.

The Italian Americans Part II : A Beautiful Story courtesy of PBS and WLIW21 Video.  Originally broadcast on November 3, 2009.  56 minutes : This documentary explores what it means to be Italian in America.

Italians in America / written and directed by Laura Verklan ; produced by Greystone Communications, Inc. for the A & E Network.  New York : History Channel : Distributed by New Video, c1998.  2 VHS videocassettes (100 min.) : sd., col. with b&w sequences ; 1/2 in. E184.I8 I843 1998 Videocassette : In a broad overview, Italians in America highlights the tragically ironic 100-year struggle for assimilation of the immigrants whose forefathers not only discovered this country, but gave it its name. In this 100-minute documentary, the history of the Italian-American story begins with the migration from southern Italy after unification. The masses of these non-English-speaking immigrants survived and ultimately overcame language barriers, negative stereotypes, and prejudice that first put them at the bottom of the urban pecking order. What is most revealing about this documentary is not necessarily the superficial story of Italian immigrants, in which the basic plot of homeland desertion, poverty, discrimination, and triumph are common elements in other immigrant communities. What it adeptly points out, though, is that the Italians were often the community to do things first, best, and biggest, thus integrating Italian culture inextricably into American culture. It divides Italian-American history into several sociological events including the largest mass exodus into the United States in history, the first successful labor unions, the rise of the largest organized crime families (which is refreshingly downplayed), the importance of the tight Italian family, the rise of Italian movie stars, singers, and athletes, and of course the food. Although too brief to go in depth about any of these phenomena, the film does a lovely job of emphasizing the undeniably profound influence Italian Americans have had in defining American culture.

Italians in America  : Our Contribution (1998) / North Shore Entertainment.  West Long Brnach, NJ : Kultur : Distributed by White Star, [2004]  1 DVD videodisc (ca. 105 min.) : sd., col. with b&w sequences ; 4 3/4 in. E184.I8 I8355 2004 VideoDVD : A captivating look at the contributions Italians have made to American culture and society. This film honors the monumental and historical accomplishments of Italians in America. History is brought to life through interviews with diverse celebrities.

Julia's Prayer : Recollections of Hamtramck, Michigan, A Polish-American Community / producer and narrator, Thomas Lewandowski. Bloomfield Hills, Mich.] : Oakland Community College, c2004. 1 DVD videodisc (126 min.) : sd., b&w with col. sequences ; 4 3/4 in. Library of Michigan E184.P7 J85 2004 (Does not circulate) : Originally consisted of 22 audio files of oral history interviews with early residents of Hamtramck and about 450-500 images of residents, presidential visits, daily life and landmarks of Hamtramck. Also available via the Internet.

May the Road Rise to Meet You.  Courtesy of PBS and WLIW21.  Video 56.06 minutes. : A nostalgic look back, telling the story of the Irish experience in America.

Mirrors of privilege : making whiteness visible / a film by Shakti Butler ; directed by Shakti Butler and Rick Butler ; produced by Rick Butler.  Oakland, Calif. : World Trust Educational Services, c2006.  1 dvd videodisc (50 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  E184.A1 M58 2006 VideoDVD : Features the up close and personal stories of white activists and their ongoing journeys of transformation. Participants will talk about being unconscious about their learned and internalized sense of white supremacy. They will share what was required and what actions they took to move through the common first stages of denial, defensiveness, guilt, fear and shame into making solid commitments towards ending racism. The video uses art, theatre, movement, photographs and music to amplify stories that share richly varied experiences and life processes informed by deep reflection and social justice action. The individuals' interviews will also be enhanced by historical sources, spoken word, photographs and video archives which will serve to address systemic racist oppression.  Conversation Guide.

Our Greek story  : antiquity, modernity and destiny / executive producer and director Keith Famie ; writer/producer Chris Kassel. Visonalist. DVD.  [Wixom, Mich.] : Visionalist Entertainment Productions, c2008.  1 DVD videodisc (ca. 60 min.) : sd., col. with b&w sequences ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 booklet (31 p. : ill. ; 18 cm)  F575.G7 O97 2008 VideoDVD  Disc & 1 booklet : This DVD contains the complete history of Greek Detroit -- the traditions, the food and the music. Majestic sequences throughout 'the old country' are hosted by business mogul Bill Damas and World War II survivor Despina Kartakis, showing a side of Greek Detroit that has never before been seen.

Our Italian story  : progress, passion and promises : Detroit's Italian heritage /  [Detroit?] : Visionalist Entertainment Productions, c2006.  1 DVD videodisc (ca. 60 min.) : sd., b&w and col. ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 booklet (21 p. : ill. ; 18 cm)  F574.D49 O98 2006 VideoDVD  Disc & 1 booklet : How old is Detroit's connection to folks of Italian decent? As old as the city itself. Alfonso Tonti was present at the city's 1701 founding, and since then, thousands of Italian immigrants have chosen us as their new homeland, helping to weave Detroit's colorful tapestry. This DVD contains honest, sometimes controversial interviews with Detroit's most prominent Italian Americans. It follows their footsteps through their toughest challenges, their boom times and tracks them through wars and economic downturns. It traces their seamless integration into business, politics and art, all the while rejoicing in an essential Italian zest for life. 'Our Italian Story' is an in-depth look at Detroit's true pioneers. This is their story, but to Detroiters, it's a proud chapter in 'Our Story'."

Our Polish story  : family, faith and fortitudes : Detroit's Polish heritage (2007) / [Detroit?] : Visionalist Entertainment Productions, c2007.  1 DVD videodisc (ca. 60 min.) : sd., b&w and col. ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 booklet (36 p. : ill. ; 18 cm)  F574.D49 O982 2007 VideoDVD :  Filmmaker Keith Famie, who participated in Season 1 of "Survivor," documents the Polish-American community in Detroit, providing insight into the culture and history....Calling themselves 'Polonia', many Poles immigrated to Detroit because of the bedrock of jobs, schools and churches, and by 1914, they made up nearly 24% of our population....This DVD contains an inspiring look at their history.  It tracks Polish Americans through the most tragic moments in their cultural history and revels in their greatest triumphs....Both heartwarming and harrowing, 'Our Polish Story' tells the true Detroit story - the struggles and jubilations experienced by some of our most influential citizens.  From politicians to artists, businessmen and musicians, the recurring theme throughout 'Our Polish Story' is faith, family and fortitude in the face of life's most difficult trials....'Our Polish Story' is seen through the eyes of both immigrants and first generation Polish Americans.  This is their story, but to Detroiters, it's a proud chapter in 'Our Story'....Director: Keith Famie

Out of Ireland : the Story of Irish Emigration to America (1994) / an American Focus production ; directed by Paul Wagner ; produced by Ellen Casey Wagner, Paul Wagner ; written by Paul Wagner with Kerby Miller.  New York : Shanachie Entertainment, [2009]  1 DVD videodisc (112 min.) : sd., col. with b&w sequences ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 sound disc (digital ; 4 3/4 in.) + 1 booklet (31 p. ill. ; 18 cm.) E184.I6 O97 2009 VideoDVD  1 dvd, 1 cd, 1 bklt.  : Examines the history of the seven million Irish who emigrated to America in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries including the causes of the exodus and the immigrant experience in the United States. Uses photographs, archival footage, manuscript material and interviews with Irish immigrants to describe their experiences and the profound influence they have had on American culture. Accompanying CD presents "a musical tapestry complementing the emigrant's story - performed by world renowned Irish musicians".  Based on a print book which is also available.

The Polish Americans courtesy of PBS and WLIW21 Video.  Originally broadcast on November 5, 2009.  55 minutes : The Polish Americans applauds the spirit, determination and solidarity of an immigrant success story like no other.

Prisoners among us : Italian-American identity & World War II / producer/director, Michael Angelo DiLauro ; writer, Joseph M. Orazi.  Scranton, PA : MichaelAngelo Productions, c2003.  1 DVD videodisc (88 min.) : sd., b&w with col. sequences ; 4 3/4 in.  E184.I8 P75 2003 VideoDVD : Chronicles the experiences of Italian-Americans and Italian prisoners of war during World War II, and their assimilation into American culture. Includes historical photographs, archival footage, literature, music, poetry, and personal interviews.

Street Scene / produced by Samuel Goldwyn; directed by King Vidor; [play by] Elmer Rice. [New York : Jewish Media Fund, 1997]. 1 videocassette (VHS)(approx. 90 min.) : sl., B&W; 1/2 in. PN1995.9.F43 S774 1997 Videocassette : Based on Elmer Rice's Pulitzer Prize's winning play, Street Scene is a bold exploration of Jewish immigrant life in America early in this century.

Sweet Land  : A Love Story / Libero and Jeff Lipsky present a film by Ali Selim a LaSalleHolland Productions in association with Beautiful Motion Pictures ; produced by James Bigham, Alan Cumming ; written and directed by Ali Selim.  Beverly Hills, CA. : 20th Century Fox, p2007, c2006.  1 DVD-R videodisc (ca. 111 min.) : digital, col. ; 4 3/4 in  PN1995.9.M27 S9448 2007 VideoDVD :  Adapted from a Will Weaver story, Ali Selim's Sweet Land is a truly sweet story about unlikely immigrant lovers whose struggle for integration into 1920's America earns them a work ethic more American than many of their narrow-minded neighbors. Set in rural Minnesota, the sentimental film focuses on tribulations that Scandinavian settlers experienced, with a cinematic serenity reminiscent of Terrence Malik's Days of Heaven. Norwegian farmer Olaf Torvik (Tim Guinee) invites a non-English speaking German siren, Inge Alltenburg (Elizabeth Reaser), to relocate and marry him, but discovers that neither the town's Lutheran pastor (John Heard) nor the local judge will marry a German into their community for fear of wartime German spies. Inge finds friendship in neighbors Frandsen (Alan Cumming) and his wife, Brownie (Alex Kingston), who disregarding local gossip, welcome her into their home. Finally, Inge proves herself, settling in so that Sweet Land's historical narrative is framed by Inge, fifty years later, speaking to her adult son about her husband's death and their plot of land. This multi-generational tale of social acceptance and land ownership is ultimately the story of America, though the regional specificity of Sweet Land will speak especially to those familiar with Midwestern culture.

Tradition Bearers  / Michael Loukinen, Producer/director.  [Marquette, Mich. : Northern Michigan University : UP North Films [distributor], 1983].  1 VHS videocassette (47 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in. F575.F5 L3 1983 Videocassette : Provides an intimate view of Finnish American folk art and cultural history by examining the lives and repertoires of four traditional artists. The film blends the oral accounts of these bearers of ethnic tradition with historical photos to establish the mainstream pattern of Finnish American social history in the northern parts of Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Subject Guide

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