Riding the Rails - Reviews

“I think it’s wonderful. I really think it’s very moving and beautiful, and I think it’s important. Riding the Rails is a natural. I’m astonished that it hasn’t been done through all these years. It’s one of the vital, terribly unreported sagas of the thirties. With today’s homeless kids, it's a contemporary story of overwhelming importance. The analogy may awaken a public conscience that has been too long asleep. I thank you for making this movie. It’s terrific.”

Studs Terkel

“Excellent! Not only fascinating history, but it is poignant and evocative on an emotional level as well.”
— Kenneth Turan,  Los Angeles Times

“Moving and informative, this is a winning documentary... From the sad and stirring folk songs on the sound track to the unforgettable faces and stories, Riding the Rails is a historical journey well worth taking.”
— David Hunter,  The Hollywood Reporter

“The film is one of enormous power and subtlety. It addresses the broad question of the human condition effectively and without dogma or preaching. It calls upon the viewer to reflect on our society and to look inside him or herself to find who we really are and where we are going. It does not permit the viewer to leave the film with a feeling of complacency...

“We learn about the loneliness pervading American life, the disconnectedness between individuals even when they suffer the same afflictions. We discover the incredibly subtle process of the formation of values, the values that too few stop and question. These are the real questions that historians of the period and problem have too seldom addressed. Perhaps now they will be shamed into pursuing them more...

“An impressive selection of people who, even in their unschooled and humble manners, are so powerfully articulate in their straight forward language, honest gestures, clear eyes, and averted gazes. The interviews themselves are masterful. The film is seamless, makes sense, is intellectually and visually appealing. At the same time it is demanding of the viewer. This is truly an exceptional film.”
— Michael Cassity, Ph.D.,  University of Wyoming

“As straightforward as a stretch of prairieland track, Riding the Rails succeeds on all counts. These stories — the sharecropper’s son who was a financial burden to his family, the French boy beaten by his parents, the kid who wanted to see America and play the guitar, the girl who stormed out of the house after a fight with her dad — are fascinating character studies. Taken as a whole, they depict a time when rampant poverty and desperation forced thousands of youths into the itinerant life, begging for change and food, sleeping in hobo encampments and hoping for a better tomorrow.”
— Steven Rea,  The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A superb job. It is wonderful. The people are articulate, compelling, and extremely moving. The use of music is marvelous, from beginning to end it all gave an emotional underpinning to the pictures and words...

“One couldn’t help thinking about the way these teenagers were treated in many places, by the authorities, the police, sometimes the inhabitants - of what refugees face all over the world, and of the way we're treating immigrants today.”
— Howard Zinn

Riding the Rails - Awards


The awards, administered by the University of Georgia, honor excellence in broadcast journalism. Won in conjunction with the premiere history series on PBS, The American Experience.

Best Documentary

The Directors Guild of America

This year the DGA honored James Cameron as Best Feature Director for Titanic and Michael Uys and Lexy Lovell as Best Documentary Director for Riding the Rails. 

Best Documentary

Los Angeles Film Critics Association

Each year the Los Angeles Film Critics vote on the best films of the year. The 1997 award for Best Documentary went to Riding the Rails. 

International Jury Award

Bombay International Documentary Film Festival

This biennial competitive festival focuses on the world's best documentaries from the preceding two years. 

Director's Award

Black Maria Film and Video Festival

The festival awards "compelling new media and exceptional achievement that expands the expressive terrain of film and video." 

Crystal Heart Award

Heartland Film Festival

The festival awards "compelling new media and exceptional achievement that expands the expressive terrain of film and video." 

Silver Hugo

Chicago International Film Festival

The Hugo statue is the symbol of discovery and the Festival’s highest honor. Hugo statues are awarded only to outstanding productions of incomparable excellence, creativity, and originality. 

Best Documentary Feature

Great Plains Film Festival

This biennial festival awards films which accentuate and enhance our nation’s extraordinary multicultural diversity and convey the rich vibrancy of our cultural heritage. 

Documentary Jury Award

Cinequest San Jose Film Festival

Maverick filmmaking is the annual theme of Cinequest which showcases independent films demonstrating the qualities of individuality, innovation, and intelligence. 

Wise Owl Reward

Retirement Research Foundation

The foundation, established by the late John D. MacArthur, is dedicated to improving the quality of life of older persons in the United States. The award is given annually to exceptional films for or about older Americans. 

Gold Apple

National Educational Media Foundation

The Apple Awards Competition is widely recognized as the premiere event in the nation honoring outstanding contributions to educational media. 

Silver Award

Best Theatrical Feature Film - Documentary

Worldfest Houston

The Worldfest Houston is one of the longest running festivals in the world. Now over 30 years old, the festival honors the top filmmakers from countries around the world.

Best of Festival | Best Documentary | Audeince Award

Moab Fiilm Festival

Riding the Rails was a triple winner at this festival, which applauds creative film efforts that educate, challenge and inspire.

Best Documentary

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival

The festival, now entering its 20th year, is the largest of its kind in the upper midwest, with well over 100 films from over 40 countries.

Best Documentary

Carolina Film Festival

The festival is now widely recognized as one of the major regional showcases of independent creative film and video. It is the longest continuously operating film festival in the Carolinas.

Outstanding use of Archival Footage

Athens International Film Festival

The Athens Center for Film and Video's purpose is to develop, encourage, sponsor, and otherwise support the appreciation, production, and growth of independent media


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