Arthur Zegart
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Arthur Zegart was an exceptional director of documentary films for television, many of which were distributed to classrooms in 16mm film versions. Very little is known today about his life or work. If you have additional information or can supply a photograph, please contact us

Zegart was involved in the production of an estimated 125 documentaries. He often had multiple roles within a film, more than occasionally producing, directing, and writing a given title. He also served as an on-screen interviewer, as was the case with Southeast Asia: The Other War (1965), which may have been the first television documentary critical of the U.S. perspective and involvement in the Vietnam war.  

He was born in Chicago in 1917 and attended the University of Chicago. He led an Air Force photography unit in World War II and was chief of the United Nations film division after the war. Unlike many other successful documentarists of his era, he wasn’t beholden to one network, directing documentaries for ABC, CBS, NBC, and NET, among other organizations. 

Zegart was an innovator. About him, noted documentarist Robert Drew, as cited in P.J. O’Connell’s book Robert Drew and the Development of Cinema Verite in America, says: 

“The San Quentin film [Penology Research, 1954] was hardly a film. It was pictures of bars, johns, light bulbs, different things you'd see in a prison, with the voices of the inmates ... talking about their thoughts and feelings and what made them do what they did. And in a way it was that strain of documentary power that comes out of radio documentary, but it was put together with some artistry and feeling, and certainly getting it on tape must have been fantastic, was fantastic. The result was one of the most powerful films of the Search series. Its high points were [eight] minutes of real reality, the inner realities of prisoners up against the prison, against society, and against themselves… Television may well find other approaches to reality reporting. Zegart is practically alone in his particular point of view. To him, "reality" means the revelation of subtle psychological relationships. To many other TV reporters it means simply the true, physical surface look of a situation. But any approach to reality reporting that makes a breakthrough big enough to alter the character of TV journalism will probably have to include two of Zegart's conspicuous qualities: the vision that finds in drab reality the glowing center of significance and excitement, and some son of moral equivalent to his overriding zeal and dedication." 

The New York Times recorded Arthur Zegart’s obituary on February 7, 1989, stating that he “committed suicide Thursday by jumping off the Tappan Zee Bridge. Mr. Zegart, who had suffered for several years from a blood disease, was 72 years old…” 

It’s not easy to find Arthur Zegart’s films today. They remain hidden in the network collections and in archives such as ours here, at the Academic Film Archive of North America. They are timeless works of the cinematic art form, as exciting and important today as they were decades ago, when they were originally filmed and distributed. His work is deserving of a new look, and it is hoped that the networks, which own the copyright to his films, will eventually be forthcoming in re-releasing them. 


Zegart’s filmography is incomplete. Please contact us to contribute the titles of any Zegart films that do not appear on this list. 

Home of the Homeless (1950, United Nations Film Board) d 

Hard Core (1951, Viking Films) d 

Penology Research (1954, CBS The Search) d/w 

San Quentin Prison (1954, CBS)  

Maine Lobsterman (1955, CBS Omnibus) d/w 

Wassaic Story (1956, CBS) 

CBS “Conquest’ series (1957-1960) This series of thirty one-hour documentaries was produced in association with the National Academy of Sciences. Each program was directed either by Norton Bloom or Arthur Zegart. We hope to have Zegart’s titles listed in the future. If you can help, contact us. 

Worlds of Dr. Vishniac, The (1959, Educational Testing Service) p/d 

Man in the Middle: The State Legislator (1961, NBC White Paper) d 

Railroads: End of the Line (1961, NBC White Paper) d/w 

Battle of Newburgh, The (1962, NBC White Paper) d/w 

Business of Gambling, The (1963) p/d/w 

San Francisco Detective (1963, DuPont Show of the Week) d/w  

Southeast Asia: The Other War (1965, NET Changing World) p/d/w 

Germany and Its Shadow (1967, NET Intertel) p/d/w 

Who Speaks for Man? (1969, NET Journal) d/w (nominated for Emmy) 

Venezuela (1970? Unsure of actual title or date, possibly made for CBS)

Angels of Serra Center, The (1974?, ABC) d

Bricha, Flight to Security (1974?, ABC) d

Kibbutz Langdon (1974, ABC) d

To Fly! (1976, National Air and Space Museum) w

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