Down and Out in America

Down and Out in America is a 1986 American Oscar-winning documentary film directed by Academy Award winner Lee Grant. It is a critique of Reaganomics and exploration of poverty in the United States.[4] It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature,[5] tying with Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got.[6]

Down and Out in America
Down and Out in America VHS cover.jpg
Video tape cover
Directed byLee Grant
Produced byJoseph Feury
Milton Justice[1]
Carol Cuddy
Narrated byLee Grant
CinematographyTom Hurwitz
Edited byMilton Moses Ginsberg
Music byTom Manoff
Distributed byHBO[2]
Hope Runs High[3]
Release date
  • 1986 (1986)
Running time
57 minutes
CountryUnited States

Produced by Grant's husband Joseph Feury and Milton Justice,[7] this was the first Academy Award for HBO.[8]


Down and Out in America was produced under Grant and husband/producer Joseph Feury's production deal with HBO. The film was greenlit while Grant was still on location in Yugoslavia on another project. She reportedly told Feury that the subject was too important and that if she couldn't return in time he should let another director make the film. He refused and convinced her to wrap her current project as early as possible and make the documentary.[9]


The film received largely positive reviews. The New York Times felt that "DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA is clear about its message: The system has failed, and the American dream has died.".[10] The film went on to receive the Academy Award for Best Documentary feature, the first Oscar for any cable network. It has been compared to Barbara Kopple's Oscar winner Harlan County, USA.


The film's negative has been preserved in the Academy Film Archive. It is regularly taught in university film and journalism classes. A new print premiered at New York's Film Forum in late 2019 as part of a 13-film retrospective of Grant's work as both actor and director, and the kick off of the film's digital and repertory re-release. Grant and Barbara Kopple introduced the Film Forum screening.[3] It remains one of the most influential portraits of Reaganomics.[11] In April 2020, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the re-release of Grant's documentaries was re-imagined as one of the first examples of virtual cinema and became "the first virtual repertory series."[12][13][14]


  1. ^ Oscars (8 February 2014). "Oprah Winfrey presents a Tie for Documentary Feature". YouTube.
  2. ^ Gendel, Morgan (January 21, 1987). "HBO Draws Aces With 34 Awards". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ a b "Down And Out In America". Film Forum.
  4. ^ "Lee Grant - Visual History Interview". Directors Guild of America.
  5. ^ Desta, Yohana (February 21, 2019). "Gaga vs. Glenn: What Happens in an Oscar Tie?". Vanity Fair.
  6. ^ "The 59th Academy Awards: 1987". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  7. ^ "Down and Out in America".
  8. ^ "Lee Grant". Archived from the original on February 12, 2020.
  9. ^ Miller, Julie (January 28, 2020). "Legendary Oscar Winner Lee Grant on the Blacklist, Sex, Sexism, the Treatment of Renée Zellweger, and More". Vanity Fair.
  10. ^ Corry, John (December 4, 1985). "HBO'S 'Down And Out'". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Courogen, Carrie (December 4, 2019). "I'm Like History Passing By: An Interview With Lee Grant". Bright Wall/Dark Room.
  12. ^ King, Loren (April 24, 2020). "Coolidge Corner Theatre's Virtual Screening Room Spotlights Lee Grant's Documentaries". WBUR-FM.
  13. ^ Keough, Peter (May 1, 2020). "Once blacklisted, Lee Grant went on to win Oscars and make documentaries". The Boston Globe.
  14. ^ Brody, Richard (April 24, 2020). "What to Stream: Three Online Releases of Movies That Would Have Come to Theatres". The New Yorker.

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