Share / Discuss

Master Craftsman

Marshall Curry ’92’s night at the Oscars in February was a joyous affair, full of red-carpet photobombs and celebrity encounters with the likes of civil rights icon (and personal idol) U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

It stood in stark contrast to Curry’s A Night at the Garden, the documentary short that landed him there. The chilling film, pieced together from archival clips, highlights a little-talked-about rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939 where 20,000 Americans gathered to celebrate the rise of Nazism.

“I thought the footage was a cautionary tale about the way that demagogues whip up audiences and take power,” says the Brooklyn-based Curry, noting the eerie parallels between the political climates of then and now. “They attack the press, they scapegoat minorities, they wrap hate in the icons of patriotism, they cheer casual violence against protesters, and they use sarcastic, sneering humor to dehumanize their opponents.

“Seeing the enthusiastic reaction of the audience—New Yorkers who would be my neighbors today—was particularly frightening.”

When a screenwriter friend told him about the event, Curry didn’t believe him—“I figured there was no way I had gotten through Swarthmore without learning about that!” he says.

Intrigued, he called upon an archival researcher for help, finding rally footage at the National Archives, UCLA, and other institutions. The resulting 7-minute documentary garnered Curry his third Academy Award nomination, his first in the short-subject category. (Period. End of Sentence. ultimately took home the top prize.)

Though his previous work has largely been unscripted—including his other Oscar-nominated films, Street Fight (2005) and If a Tree Falls (2011)—Curry recently released his first dramatic short, The Neighbors’ Window, which premiered to glowing reviews in April at the Tribeca Film Festival.

With every project, Curry is driven by a curiosity and critical sense that he says Swarthmore helped to sharpen.

“Some people make films because they have something they want to say, but I’m usually attracted to a topic because I have something I want to understand,” he says. “Making a film gives you a license to ask people personal questions, to follow them closely, and to think deeply about complex things.”