Movie screening talks about the Dust Bowl

Shadezja Garrett, Staff Reporter

Various faculty, staff and students were told about the effects of the Dust Bowl and an old hometown hero in Thursday’s screening of The Grapes Of Wrath.

Kit Morice, curator of education for the Tarble Arts Center, facilitated the screening and also spoke about Gregg Toland, the cinematographer for The Grapes Of Wrath and other Academy Award-winning films and a Charleston native.

Toland was born May 29, 1904 at 409 Van Buren Ave. and left Charleston in 1915, but still has relatives in Coles County to this day. Toland moved to Los Angeles with his mother and became one of Hollywood’s most renowned cinematographers. Morice found out this information out accidentally from looking up the movie.

“When I came across that, I thought people need to know that Gregg Toland is from Charleston,” Morice said.

Morice also helped with the planning of “Gregg Toland Day,” a community festival celebrating the centennial of his birth in 2004.

She found it surprising that when Gregg Toland is looked up online, the only information given about his early days are that he was born in Charleston in 1904.

“Even the film scholars that were publishing on The Grapes Of Wrath, Citizen Kane, The Long Voyage Home, and all these great films he did didn’t seem to know anything about his roots,” Morice said.

The screening is a part of an exhibition and program series titled “Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry.” Presented by the Mary J. Booth Library, the series kicked off Jan. 11 with a keynote presentation and programs including the screening of The Dust Bowl and presentations from the history, health studies, music, and English departments.

“When the Booth Library mentioned that they were doing this series and this exhibition, I said ‘Well, would you be interested in having the Tarble screen the film The Grapes Of Wrath and then talk about the Gregg Toland connection?’” Morice said. “They jumped right on it. That was in the fall semester. Then we started making arrangements, found a date that worked and I was able to get the film rights from The Criterion in Chicago and we just made it happen.”

In The Grapes Of Wrath, directed by John Ford, audiences follow the Joad family, who are looking for a better life after the bank seizes their farm.

Led by Tom Joad, the oldest son who was just let out on parole, the family endures various hardships and encounters many people along the way, all who are chasing the same dreams.

Morice wanted those who have not seen the film to gain an understanding about the personal and economic effects of the Dust Bowl and wanted to illuminate Gregg Toland and his contribution to the film.

“I just love this film,” Morice said. “It’s a great story and it’s so beautifully filmed in black and white. You don’t see black and white like that today.”

Morice said she feels that students at Eastern, as well as across the country, should pay more attention to the Dust Bowl because it is still happening across the world. She touched on the affects of climate change and how different areas of the globe are changing negatively. She also talked about how things like anti-labor movements are products of the Dust Bowl.

“I think that even though this message comes from the 1930s, it’s very much for us today,” Morice said.

She said she is pleased with the people on campus who have shared their knowledge of the Dust Bowl and the diverse programs created to engage various students, faculty, staff and community members.

The Tarble Arts Center will have their second “Talk Back Thursday” next week, where students and community members share thoughts on what they would like to see happening within the center. They will also be opening their all-student gallery soon.

“Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry” will conclude Feb.26.


Shadezja Garrett can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]