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Professor Receives $500,000 Grant to Produce Documentary

Richard Wormser, an adjunct professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, has received a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to produce a two-hour documentary film on American radicalism.

Richard WormserWormser’s project, "American Reds: The Failed Revolution," is a two-hour documentary film intended for public television. It will tell the story of American radicalism between 1930 and 1960.

The program also received a $20,000 from the Cal Humanities, the California humanities council. It will examine the paradoxical efforts of the radical movement’s attempt to transform America according to a utopian vision of a better society while at the same time many radicals were aligning themselves with the tyrannical dystopia of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Wormser said.

This is the 16th grant Wormser has received from the NEH during his career.  He has written, produced and directed more than 40 programs for public television, foundations and educational institutions. His programs have received over 30 awards, including the prestigious Peabody Award and four Emmy nominations.

The heyday of the radical movement came in the 1930s, when it played a major role in organizing labor unions and massive demonstrations against Hitler and fascism, fighting for the civil rights of African American and supporting the arts. Its collapse came during the Cold War when radicals refused to disassociate themselves from Stalin.  That led to the arrests, trials and convictions of the movement’s leadership.  The greatest blow came following the revelations of Stalin’s crimes by the Nikita Khrushchev in 1956. Within four years, over 90 percent of the Communist party’s members had quit.

In awarding the grant, the NEH said evaluators applauded the way the application "captures the drama of the popular front" and chronicles the history of the Communist Party within broader contexts of the Great Depression and the New Deal.

Evaluators noted the proposal's "balance" and "complexity" in dealing with the political history of American communism, suggesting that the script does not assign simple "heroes" and "villains."

The NEH also noted that the team of advisors on the project is impressive because it "includes some of the very best American historians working in the United States today."

The NEH last year awarded Wormser, who also teaches at Fordham University, a $75,000 grant to develop the script for "American Reds."