Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Selling Democracy

The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act prohibited domestic distribution of films made by the U.S. government for foreign audiences. This ban was limited to 12 years from a film's release in 1990, but it has meant that American audiences have not had a chance to see the films made to promote democracy under the Marshall Plan. This has now been rectified by the 25-film retrospective "Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan, 1948–1953," at the William G. McGowan Theater in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

Here are some selections:

"Postwar misery plagued all of Europe, and in Hunger (7’) Germany is blamed. German audiences rejected the film, so it was pulled from theaters by the U.S. military government. It’s Up to You (20’), another controversial film, focused on de-Nazification and re-orientation. Divided Berlin quickly became a locus for propaganda battles developing Between East and West (22’). The Bridge (15’) documents the dramatic rescue of West Berlin by the airlift. Me and Mr. Marshall (13’), the first Marshall Plan film, celebrates the rebuilding of Germany. Italy, like Germany, had succumbed to the lure of fascism, and had to be re-integrated into Europe. In Life and Death of a Cave City (11’), one of the rare color films, Italian families live in underground warrens until Marshall aid builds them new houses above ground. Rotterdam had been bombed to rubble by the Nazis. Houen Zo (21’), a symphony of sounds and music that shows the city coming back to life, won a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival. (approx 100 minutes)"

. . .

"By 1949 the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section was in full swing, and its filmmakers were challenged to turn people’s despair into optimism. The films in program two embody the can-do spirit of the Marshall Planners before anti-Communist anxieties set in. From the American point of view, productivity was the key to prosperity, but it had to be tempered with a respect for traditional European craftmanship. These themes are amusingly tackled in The Extraordinary Adventures of a Quart of Milk (14’), The Home We Love (15’), and Rice and Bulls (15’), all set in France. Thrilling struggles to reclaim land and find water for irrigation are recounted in Island of Faith (20’) and Town Without Water (13’). Even hard-boiled students of propaganda technique may find themselves shedding a tear. When it seemed the elder generation would never change, the Marshall Planners aimed at the young. Hansl and the 200,000 Chicks is one of the most charming examples. The Marshall Plan operated in 17 countries, plus the city-state of Trieste. ERP in Action No. 5 (14’) takes you on a tour of aid projects in Portugal, Great Britain, Belgium, Greece — all set to the jaunty tunes typical of 50’s newsreels. (approx 100 minutes)"


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