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University of New Haven Professor’s Documentary Airs on 170 PBS Stations

The new chair of the University of New Haven’s Department of Communication, Film and Media Studies returns to his alma mater to expand opportunities for students and change their lives much like the program changed his a generation ago.

Richard Wormser, a University of New Haven adjunct professor of criminal justice, is the director of American Reds, a documentary film about the history of the Communist Party in the United States that is airing across the country this fall on nearly 170 PBS stations.

A Peabody Award-winning filmmaker, Wormser says American Reds is the first documentary to comprehensively examine both the history and the contemporary relevance of the Communist Party in the United States. He wrote the film and co-produced it with Bill Jersey, who is considered one of the founders of the modern documentary.

“I was interested in the story of the party as a story of vision and blindness,” Wormser said in a recent feature story for the alumni magazine published by Bucknell University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1955.

“The people had a vision of creating — eventually — a completely alternate system to capitalism based upon socialism, where there would be equality, no discrimination,” Wormser continued.

“That was the vision. The blindness was the tyranny of Stalin. After the revelations [of Stalin’s brutality] emerged in the 1950s, about 70 percent of the members just left in disgust.”

American Reds was funded with a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Lost In the Shadows

Richard Wormser

American Reds is a valuable primer into the tragic turn of events that betrayed the hopes and aspirations of everyday working people during the great confrontation between capitalism and communism in the early 20th century,” said Bill Moyers, a former White House press secretary, longtime PBS commentator and preeminent journalist who has won more than 30 Emmy awards.

“It’s an important addition to public television’s mission to throw light on obscured corners of our history and on the forgotten people lost in the shadows.

The PBS stations airing the film reach nearly 75 percent of all U.S. households.

Wormser, who is teaching a special topics course this fall called “The Media and Crime,” was the co-director and writer of The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, a nationally acclaimed four-part television series about the African American struggle for freedom during the era of segregation. The series won the prestigious Peabody Award for excellence in television programming, the International Documentary Association’s Best Series award and three national Emmy nominations.

Wormser also has written, produced and/or directed more than 50 programs for television and educational institutions that have received numerous awards and 18 grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The University of New Haven will host a screening of American Reds on Thursday, October 6, at 6 p.m. in Buckman 120. Wormser will lead a discussion after the film.