Selling Democracy presents a retrospective of 25 films divided into four programs. They were selected to tour the United States by Sandra Schulberg and Ed Carter, Documentary Curator of the Academy Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
PROGRAM ONE: OUT OF THE RUINS
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)
PROGRAM TWO: HELP IS ON THE WAY
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)
PROGRAM THREE: TRUE FICTION
Marshall Plan filmmakers created a sense of drama in nearly all of their films, including the documentaries. Numerous documentaries were partially staged docudramas. The Marshall Plan also commissioned full-fledged fiction films. Program three illustrates both approaches. The Story of Koula (21’) is an utterly charming film about a small Greek boy trying to tame a giant American mule. Aquila (21’) is a beautiful example of early Italian neo-realism. The Promise of Barty O’Brien (39’) is a scripted drama, performed by Dublin’s famous Abbey Theater players. The Smiths and the Robinsons (19’) a comedy about the slight gradations in the British class system, also uses professional actors. Two British couples on rations covet what the other has; meanwhile, even the woefully out of shape are called to devote their weekends to civil defense training. At an alpine resort where families gather from all over Europe, it’s the children who overcome the Babel of languages in Let’s Be Childish (20’), a delightful ode to the future of Europe.
(approx. 120 minutes)
PROGRAM FOUR: STRENGTH FOR THE FREE WORLD
The invasion of Korea cut short the optimistic phase one of the Marshall Plan. During phase two under the Mutual Security Agency, MSA filmmakers would make more films with anti-Communist themes, stressing the virtues of political unity and military strength. The fear of Communist inroads haunts The Hour of Choice (21’), Without Fear (15’), and Struggle for Men’s Minds (27’). Whitsun Holiday (14’) is a clever piece of propaganda that mocks the way Eastern Bloc citizens spend their leisure time. Do Not Disturb! (15’), is pure satire. In the guise of a Soviet-inspired propaganda film, it makes fun of West Germany and the US; but the evils of consumerism appear ever so tempting. The Marshall Plan blazed the trail towards European Union, out of a conviction that a European market was the fastest route to recovery and the best bulwark against Communism. But trade barriers were a major obstacle. Here animation came to the rescue. Economics is fun and easy to swallow in The Shoemaker and the Hatter (16’), a cartoon parable about the virtues of a common market. Taken together, these films posit a vision of a united Europe, pre-figuring the Common Market and European Union, and demonstrating the extraordinary long term legacy of the Marshall Plan and its impact on the Europe of today.
(approx. 100 minutes)
See you at the cinema!
New York City