About the Film

The Manhattan Front is Cathy Lee Crane’s debut feature-length fiction film concerned with an over-looked chapter of American history.

Its core impulse for the director came from a very personal question: “Who might my maternal great-grandmother have been?”

When the U.S. entered World War I, a butcher in the Bronx adopted Crane’s maternal grandmother at the age of three. Extensive research into the lives of women in Manhattan from 1914-1917 led to the discovery that during this period of U.S. neutrality, the Great War was being waged on what German Naval Officer von Rintelen described as The Manhattan Front.

The film’s visual style of staged live action material is designed as if were the playing ground of a child’s dollhouse. The film could be said to be the story of the First World War as told by a little girl playing. Any one of its female protagonists could later become anyone’s great-grandmother.

The film’s value to the present derives from Barbara Tuchman’s idea of the distant mirror: we look back to history because something in the present needs to be seen anew.

Issues of progressive labor politics, munitions production, surveillance of citizens, and domestic effects of war are still pressing concerns.

Continuing her unique aesthetic that combines staged and archival material, this film furthers Crane’s investigation into the manner by which fact and fiction unmask each other; an ongoing inquiry into hidden histories held in the archive.

The reservoir of archival content at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. provides this film its historical thread. This film will be released in conjunction with the completion of the Archives’ digitization of its entire WW1 collection.