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The Plow That Broke the Plains

The Plow That Broke the Plains is a 1936 short documentary film which shows what happened to the Great Plains when uncontrolled plowing led to the Dust Bowl. It was written and directed by Pare Lorentz.

Lorentz worked on the film with composer Virgil Thomson, who shared Lorentz' enthusiasm for folk music and incorporated many folk melodies into the soundtrack.

The film was sponsored by the United States government and intended to cost $6,000 or less; it eventually cost over $19,000 and Lorentz, turning in many receipts written on various scraps of paper, had many of his reimbursements denied and paid for much of the film himself. Lorentz later faced some criticism for having moved a skull from one location to another in the Dust Bowl to shoot it and for other stagings in the film, but the film nonentheless succeeded in driving home the message of the severity of the problem caused by the misuse of land.

In 1999 the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

See The River (1937).