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Special St. Patricks Day Program Features “The Promise Of Barty O’Brien” and

 “The Marshall Plan At Work In Ireland”

Vintage Movies From The Forties And Fifties Will Bracket Marshall Plan Film Showings

Sponsored by Goethe-Institut Boston and Harvard University’s Center for European Studies

“As we look at the conflict resolution challenges facing us around the world, I believe we have much to learn from the entertaining and insightful films of the Marshall Plan.” —Sandra Schulberg, Marshall film historian

Boston, February 24, 2009 — From March 12-17, the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge presents the series “Selling Democracy,” Films of the Marshall Plan: 1948–1953, in cooperation with Harvard University and the Goethe-Institut Boston. The four-part series, organized by Sandra Schulberg, consists of 24 films that were made to promote the European Recovery Program (ERP), better known as the Marshall Plan.  U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall launched the idea in a now-famous speech he made at Harvard University on June 5, 1947, and it was enacted by Congress in 1948. Each evening’s program is followed by a post-screening discussion led by Ms. Schulberg and professors from Harvard’s Center for European Studies. A Marshall Plan symposium on the Harvard campus takes place on March 16, at the Center.

Close to 300 films were made by the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section, but they were banned in the U.S. under the terms of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act. In 1990, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry introduced an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act that permitted the Marshall Plan films to be shown at last. The “Selling Democracy” series is the first major effort to show these films in the United States since the ban was overturned.  This year marks the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section in Paris, as well as the 60th anniversary of the Federal Republic of Germany, an event that is highlighted in several of the films (see Program 1). 

Because Marshall believed that rebuilding Europe after WWII was, in his words, “the business of Europeans,” the recovery program was designed by Americans and Europeans working together.  Its architecture required that each country share its needs assessment with the others, and that they speak with one voice to Washington.  This raised tricky issues of sovereignty and served as an excuse for Russia to reject the plan. Eventually 17 European countries signed on. The American Marshall Planners urged their counterparts to invest in infrastructure and to increase productivity, and the Europeans did so, all the while maintaining their autonomy and charting their own approach to using the ERP system of credits. The self-help elements built into the plan were summarized in one of the public diplomacy slogans: “ERP – Helping people to help each other.”  What few on either side of the Atlantic realize today is that the Marshall Plan was not an American give-away program: rather, U.S. aid was matched by Europeans through “Marshall Plan counterpart funds” in each country.  The entire public information campaign and all the films were funded through this mechanism by the Europeans.  This enabled the Europeans to “talk back” to the Americans, demonstrated in films such as The Story of Koula (see Program 3).

In the era before televisions were common, cinema was used to inform Europeans about the aid projects underway in their countries. ERP writers and directors kept the films short and entertaining so that commercial distributors would run them ahead of the movies. Originality and wit took the sting out of the fact they were “message” films, intended to persuade whole societies to lay down their weapons, transcend the bitterness of war, and work together. A decade of Nazi and other wartime propaganda had to be overcome. The ERP films, radio programs, and posters were also deemed necessary to counteract a flood of Cominform  (Communist Information Bureau) propaganda, alleging that the Marshall Plan was an American imperialist conspiracy.

The myriad communication techniques employed by the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section make for a fascinating study in “public diplomacy,” long before the term was coined by Edward Gullion of Tufts University in 1965. Though more than 280 movies were made, most were forgotten over time, and there is no single archive where they can all be seen. They offer a fascinating glimpse of a time when the medium of film was used to sway public opinion and promote social change. In light of contemporary campaigns to “sell democracy” around the world, the films of the Marshall Plan offer invaluable insights.

Sandra Schulberg, “Selling Democracy” project director, introduces each evening’s program. Having researched the films for five years, she has become one of the few experts on the work of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section.  Founding director of the Independent Feature Project (IFP), the largest association of independent filmmakers in the US, and co-founder of First Run Features, Schulberg is an award-winning movie producer and Adjunct Professor in Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division. She is the daughter of Stuart Schulberg, chief of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section in Europe from 1950-1952, where she grew up among many of the filmmakers and their families. She is currently at work on a Marshall Plan film DVD collection and companion book. The titles in the traveling showcase of Marshall Plan films were selected by Schulberg and Ed Carter, Documentary Curator of the Academy Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  They built on the work of Marshall Plan filmographer Linda Christenson, whose complete listing of Marshall Plan films, created with support from the George C. Marshall Foundation, can be seen at

The “Selling Democracy” Boston showcase is underwritten by the Goethe-Institut Boston, with program support from the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies of Harvard University.  Films were preserved for the tour by the Academy Film Archive, and additional tour support has been provided by the George C. Marshall Foundation, and by the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The printed film guide is made possible with support from the U.S. Department of State’s IIP and EUR bureaus.

Vintage Movie Bonus

From March 12 – 19, as a sidebar to the Marshall Plan films, five vintage movies from the 40’s and 50’s are being shown: A Foreign Affair, Billy Wilder’s comedy shot in postwar Berlin, starring Marlene Dietrich, that was banned by U.S. Military Government; Jacques Tati’s Jour de Fete and the Peter Sellers comedy Battle of the Sexes, both of which poke fun at the American mania for productivity; Berlin Express, a postwar thriller in which a German peace advocate is kidnapped by Nazi sympathizers; and a free screening of Roberto Rossellini’s classic Paisan, his portrait of Italy as a country at war with itself.

Harvard University Symposium

In connection with the Marshall Plan film series, the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES) is sponsoring a seminar titled “Selling Democracy: The Marshall Plan in a Modern Context,” on March 16, from 4:00 – 6:00 pm. The event is free and open to the general public.  It takes place at CES, 27 Kirkland Street @ Cabot Way, in the Lower Level Conference Room.  Speakers include Charles Maier, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard, who assisted the European director of the Marshall Plan, Averell Harriman, on historical memoirs, and who has published The Marshall Plan and Germany (with Gunther Bischof) , as well as edited The Cold War in Europe, and The Marshall Plan: A Retrospective (with Stanley Hoffmann); David Blackbourn, Coolidge Professor of History and Director of the Center for European Studies at Harvard, whose most recent book is The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape and the Making of Modern Germany;  Werner Sollors, whose books include Ethnic Modernism,  and Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture, and who has written extensively on issues of national identity, comparing German and American attitudes towards migration and minority integration; and Sandra Schulberg.


Film Schedule
March 12 – 17, 2009

Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel 617 876 6838

Tickets are $9.50 ($7.50 for Brattle members and Goethe-Institut members), and are available in advance at

Thursday, March 12 – 8:00 pm
Saturday, March 14 -- 4:00 pm

The Marshall Plan film series begins with several films made by the Office of Military Government in Germany (OMGUS), which set the stage. Postwar misery plagued all of Europe, and in Hunger (7 min), Germany is blamed. German audiences rejected the film, so it was pulled from theaters by the U.S. military government there. Divided Berlin quickly became the locus of propaganda battles, as seen in Between East and West (22 min). The Bridge (15 min) documents the dramatic rescue of West Berlin by the airlift.  These films all led to Me and Mr. Marshall (13 minutes), the first Marshall Plan film, which celebrates the rebuilding of Germany, and takes a new approach to propaganda technique. The Cannes Festival prize-winner Houen Zo (21 min) was deemed a modern masterpiece.  Using only sights and sounds (no narration), it shows the city of Rotterdam, bombed to rubble by the Nazis, coming back to life.

Friday, March 13 – 8:00 pm
Sunday, March 15 – 4:30 pm

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. The Marshall Plan operated in 17 countries, plus the city-state of Trieste. ERP in Action No. 5 (14 min) 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. 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 (14 min), The Home We Love (15 min), and Rice and Bulls (15 min), all set in France. Thrilling struggles to reclaim land and find water for irrigation are recounted in Island of Faith (20 min) and Town Without Water (13 min). Even hard-boiled students of propaganda 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 (15 min) is one of the most charming examples.

Saturday, March 14 – 6:30 pm
Monday, March 16 – 7:30 pm

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 min) is an utterly charming film about a small Greek boy trying to tame a giant American mule. Aquila (21 min) is a beautiful example of early Italian neo-realism. The Promise of Barty O’Brien (39 minutes) is a scripted drama, performed by Dublin’s famous Abbey Theater players. The Smiths and the Robinsons (19 minutes), is a recruiting film for the British Home Guard in the guise of a comedy about the slight gradations in the British class system.  It features professional actors. 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 minutes), a delightful ode to the future of Europe.

Sunday, March 15 – 6:45 pm
Tuesday, March 17 – 5:00 pm

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

(21 min), Struggle for Men’s Minds (27 minutes), and Without Fear (15 min).

Whitsun Holiday (14 minutes) is a clever piece of propaganda that mocks the way Eastern Bloc citizens spend their leisure time. Do Not Disturb! (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 (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.

Tuesday, March 17 – 7:30 pm

The Marshall Plan At Work In Ireland (one screening only!), plus reprise of

The Promise of Barty O’Brien

Vintage Movie Sidebar
All screenings at Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
For more information:, or call 617 876 6838.

Thursday, March 12 -- 5:30 pm
Thursday, March 19 -- 7:00 pm

Director Billy Wilder w/ Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur, John Lund (1948, 116 min)

Returning to Berlin after WWII, German expatriate Wilder found a city in ruins, and the perfect backdrop for a politically charged romance. In the occupied city, an American army captain (Lund) is torn between an ex-Nazi cafe singer (Dietrich, also an expatriate) and the U.S. congresswoman (Arthur), who is investigating her. Lightly told but with the bite of irony that Wilder and co-writer Charles Brackett were masters of, A FOREIGN AFFAIR remains both a terrific romantic comedy and a fascinating document of post-war Berlin.  U.S. Military Government authorities, who had invited Wilder to make the film in the first place, decided the finished film was not “good propaganda,” and banned it.  It was not shown in Germany until 1977.

Saturday, March 14 -- 2:00 pm
Wednesday, March 18  -- 5:30 pm

Director Jacques Tati w/Tati (1949, 80 min)

The marvelous Jacques Tati stars in and directs this sublime comedy about a rural French postman who, inspired by a short film about the efficiency of the modern United States mail system, sets out to make his delivery route the best in the country…with mixed results.  Fans of Tati’s immortal Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday will not be disappointed by this comedic gem.

Saturday, March 14 -- 11:00 am

Director Roberto Rossellini (1946, 90 min)

This special free screening of Rossellini’s PAISAN helps to set the stage for the Marshall Plan films, and offers a unique perspective on American involvement in Italy during WWII. Broken into six different vignettes that collectively follow the Allied liberation of Italy, from  July 1943 through winter 1944, it provides a broad overview of a country at war with itself as well as with others, PAISAN helps show why the Marshall Plan, and the propaganda that accompanied it, was deemed necessary. (Free Screening)

Sunday, March 15 -- 2:30 pm
Wednesday, March 18  -- 7:30 pm

Director Charles Crichton w/Peter Sellers, Constance Cummings, Robert Morley  (1959, 84 min)

Based on a story by the great British humorist James Thurber, THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES is a bitingly comedic allegory about one of the Marshall Plan’s dearest contentions -- that increased productivity was a social good. Scotland, the last bastion of post-war male supremacy (not to mention artisanal piecework) is under attack by a nefarious villain – a female American efficiency expert! It takes an unlikely hero – a grey-haired, tee-totaling bachelor, played by Sellers – to match her. This rarely seen British comedy by the great Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob) is a real treat. Not available on DVD.

Monday, March 16 -- 5:30 pm
Thursday, March 19 --  5:00 pm and 9:30 pm

Director Jacques Tourneur w/Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan (1948, 87 min)

Shot on location in Paris, Frankfurt and Berlin, BERLIN EXPRESS is a thrilling evocation of post-War Germany and the challenges faced by the Allied countries in administering a morally and physically decimated nation. A multi-national group of train passengers traveling from Paris to Berlin find themselves drawn into political intrigue when pro-Nazi nationalists kidnap one of their number, a progressive German peace advocate. Directed by the underappreciated ‘other’ master of suspense, Jacques Tourneur (Out Of The Past) from a story by the great Curt Siodmak (The Wolf Man).