The Today, the U.S. government is engaged in another effort to “sell Democracy,” this time in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. Calls for a Marshall plan compete with calls for a martial plan. Yet, fewer and fewer people have an understanding either of the fundamental tenets of the Marshall Plan or of the means used to implement it. For the past two years, I have been on a mission to publicize the “lost” films of the Marshall Plan because they illumine every facet of its grand design -- and they do it with style. Marshall Plan filmmakers, according to historian Amy Garrett, benefitted from lessons learned at OWI (Office of War Information): “you don’t sell democracy to Danes . . . the way you sell soap in Sioux City.”1
Marshall Plan films were produced at the Paris headquarters and at 17 other country missions (including the disputed city-state of Trieste) under the supervision of four successive film chiefs - Lothar Wolff, Stuart Schulberg, Nils Nilson, and Albert Hemsing. Before his death, Al Hemsing made a valiant effort to find and catalogue 117 of them, which permitted film archivist Linda Christenson, with the support of the George C. Marshall Foundation, to embark on a search for the others. She located 187 titles at the US National Archive, and others at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, the Bundesarchiv/Filmarchiv, the Imperial War Museum, and the Ministère de l’Agriculture et de la Pêche. By 2002, she had created a definitive filmography of approximately 262 titles, on view at www.marshallfilms.org. Since then, the Selling Democracy project has identified additional films. We hope this program will stimulate archivists, historians, and family members of the Marshall Plan filmmakers to come forward with more titles that could be added to the Christenson filmography. So if I use the word “lost,” it is because the Marshall Plan films have been lost from view for nearly 60 years, a situation exacerbated by the 1948 Smith-Mundt Bill that prevented their being shown to American audiences (who were not be to “propagandized” with their own tax dollars). The ban was lifted in 1990, thanks to an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, introduced by Senator John Kerry at the urging of Al Hemsing; but no effort was made to screen them publicly in America until our Selling Democracy series.
What is so timely about these films? The answers lie in this historic retrospective an illuminating cross-section of the over 250 titles produced from 1948 to 1953 under the aegis of the post-World War II European Recovery Program (ERP), popularly known as the “Marshall Plan.” Included in the retrospective are several important pre-Marshall Plan titles, produced by the Office of Military Government/U.S. (OMGUS) in Berlin. They include the flagship film Me and Mr. Marshall; as well as Hunger, Between East and West, Die Brücke, and It’s Up To You! These five films provide an insight into the re-integration of Germany (a prerequisite for the European community to flourish), and set the stage for understanding the Marshall Plan’s broader educational and economic objectives.
This exploration has led me on a personal as well as a historical journey. I am a child of the Marshall Plan, born in Paris shortly after my father was named chief of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section. But until I had the opportunity to screen the films for our Selling Democracy retrospectives, I didn’t realize the extent to which they had shaped my earliest consciousness -- the same way they shaped the consciousness of millions of other European postwar children. Now it is our turn on the main stage. As we look at the wars going on around the world, I believe we have much to learn from the films of the Marshall Plan.