From 1914 to 1917 a neutral America profits from the export of munitions to their British Allies. As American bullets kill more and more Germans, the Kaiser sends Captain Franz von Rintelen to New York City on a covert plan to sabotage the production and export of munitions. Rintelen names his project The Manhattan Front.
Our story follows young stenographer, Janey, as she arrives to Manhattan in October 1914 seeking her independence. She finds work as a stenographer for Ward Moorehouse, a lobbyist who represents Standard Oil and Dupont Munitions Works.
In joining the Moorehouse firm, Janey learns that this unparalleled opportunity for industrial profit is threatened by agitations from the labor unions in New Jersey and the revolution in Mexico. As strikes demand the 8-hour workday, Janey’s new friend Mac, an itinerant linotype printer, introduces her to the International Workers of the World (the Wobblies) at their Harbor Pub meetings with soap-boxer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
When Rintelen needs dockworkers to implement his plot, he turns to an old acquaintance, vaudeville chanteuse Lenore. She sends him an Irish stevedore with a vast network of harbor laborers in Amboy. As Rintelen suspects, the Irish hate the British as much as the Germans do.
These stories collide in the betrayals and suspicious alliances that come to their conclusion in the destruction of the munitions depot of Black Tom Island in 1916 that accelerates the nation to war.
Interwoven with this narrative plot are hypnotic images of Manhattan from 1915 housed in the extensive WW1 archival collection at the National Archive and a fantastical thread (inspired by Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct) of children at play with their toys and their miniature dollhouse. These slow motion dreamlike images drive the film to its surprising conclusion.