“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.” —Sandra Schulberg, Selling Democracy project director
From April 5–8, the Walker Art Center presents the series
Selling Democracy, Films of the Marshall Plan: 1948–1953
. The four-part series, organized by Sandra Schulberg, presents a retrospective of 25 films that were part of U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s proposal after World War II to structure a U.S.-supported European recovery program. Each evening’s program is followed by a post-screening discussion led by professors from the University of Minnesota. The films were selected by Schulberg and Ed Carter, Documentary Curator of the Academy Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with Dr. Rainer Rother of Berlin’s German Historical Museum. These films have been removed from view for nearly 60 years as a result of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Bill that prevented their being shown to American audiences, which was later lifted in 1990 thanks to an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. The Selling Democracy series is the first major effort to show these films publicly since the 1950s.
After World War II, the European Recovery Program (ERP), commonly known as the Marshall Plan, was put into motion to help rebuild certain war-torn European countries. In light of contemporary concerns of “selling” global democracy, the Marshall Plan offered a clear and humanizing approach to persuade whole societies to lay down their weapons, transcend the bitterness of war, and work together. These films challenged audiences to realize that, as one title put it: It’s Up to You! Though more than 200 movies were made, most were forgotten over time. Resurfacing today, they offer a fascinating glimpse of a time when the U.S. government used the medium of film to sway public opinion and promote social change.
Sandra Schulberg, Selling Democracy project director, introduces each evening. Founder and former president of the Independent Feature Project (IFP) and the Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM) and cofounder of First Run Features, Schulberg has been active in supporting independent cinema for more than 25 years. An award-winning producer, she is the daughter of Stuart Schulberg, chief of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section in Europe, where she grew up among many of these filmmakers and their families. She is currently at work on an international tour of the retrospective, a companion DVD, and a book. Joining her are scholars from the University of Minnesota’s Center for German & European Studies and other special guests.
Tickets are $8 ($6 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.
Programming support by Center for German & European Studies, University of Minnesota.
FILMS OF THE MARSHALL PLAN: 1948–1953
Wednesday, April 5
Out of the Ruins, 7 pm
Introduced by Sandra Schulberg; post-screening discussion by Dr. Eric D. Weitz, Professor of History and Director of the Center for German & European Studies, University of Minnesota, and Dr. Lisa Disch, Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota
Postwar misery plagued all of Europe, and in Hunger (video, 7 minutes) Germany is blamed. German audiences rejected the film, so it was pulled from theaters by the U.S. military government there. It’s Up to You (16mm, 20 minutes), another controversial film, focused on de-Nazification and re-orientation. Divided Berlin quickly became a locus for propaganda battles developing Between East and West (16mm, 22 minutes). The Bridge (16mm, 15 minutes) documents the dramatic rescue of West Berlin by the airlift. Me and Mr. Marshall (35mm, 13 minutes), 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 (video, 11 minutes), one of the rare color films, Italian families live in underground warrens until Marshall aid builds them new houses above ground. In the Cannes-prizewinning Houen Zo (35mm, 21 minutes), a symphony of sounds and music accompanies Rotterdam, a city bombed to rubble by the Nazis, coming back to life.
Thursday, April 6
Help Is on the Way, 7 pm
Introduced by Sandra Schulberg; post-screening discussion by Dr. Elaine Tyler May, Professor of American Studies, University of Minnesota, and Dr. Lisa Disch, Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota
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 craftsmanship. These themes are amusingly tackled in The Extraordinary Adventures of a Quart of Milk (16mm, 14 minutes), The Home We Love (16mm, 15 minutes), and Rice and Bulls (16mm, 15 minutes), all set in France. Thrilling struggles to reclaim land and find water for irrigation are recounted in Island of Faith (16mm, 20 minutes) and Town Without Water (16mm, 13 minutes). 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 (35mm, 15 minutes) 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 (16mm, 14 minutes) 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.
Friday, April 7
True Fiction, 7 pm
Introduced by Sandra Schulberg; post-screening discussion by Dr. Lary May, Professor of American Studies, University of Minnesota, and Dr. Theofanis Stavrou, Professor of History and Director, Modern Greek Studies, University of Minnesota
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 (16mm, 21 minutes) is an utterly charming film about a small Greek boy trying to tame a giant American mule. Aquila (35mm, 21 minutes) is a beautiful example of early Italian neo-realism. The Promise of Barty O’Brien (16mm, 39 minutes) is a scripted drama, performed by Dublin’s famous Abbey Theater players. The Smiths and the Robinsons (video, 19 minutes) 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 (35mm, 20 minutes), a delightful ode to the future of Europe.
Saturday, April 8
Strength for the Free World, 7 pm
Introduced by Sandra Schulberg; post-screening discussion by Dr. Rembert Hueser, Assistant Professor of German, Scandinavian, and Dutch, University of Minnesota, and Dr. Heino Beckmann, Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany
The invasion of Korea cut short the optimistic first phase of the Marshall Plan. During phase two, under the Mutual Security Agency, 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 (35mm, 21 minutes), Without Fear (video, 15 minutes), and Struggle for Men’s Minds (video, 27 minutes). Whitsun Holiday (35mm, 14 minutes) is a clever piece of propaganda that mocks the way Eastern Bloc citizens spend their leisure time. Do Not Disturb! (16mm, 15 minutes) 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 (16mm, 16 minutes), 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.