Marshall Plan Film Production, Distribution, and Censorship
Article 2 of the European Cooperation Masterplan permitted the ECA authorities to engage in dissemination of information about the ERP. As Al Hemsing states in his memoir, The Marshall Plan’s European Film Unit, 1948 – 1955, 6 the motion picture division had no trouble obtaining the necessary resources: “[ECA] soon found itself with an almost unlimited supply of ‘counterpart’ funds. These were the local currencies that each nation put up to match American aid – dollar for dollar. They were intended for national reconstruction projects that required no dollar input: roads, schools, houses. It had also been agreed that five per cent of these currencies would be paid to ECA to cover its administrative expenses and information activities. No one foresaw what this levy would grow to as American aid mounted.”

Stuart Schulberg described how those funds were put to work in Making Marshall Plan Movies (Film News, September 1951). He stressed not only the films’ informational value, but also their psychological impact: “Organized in 1949, the ECA Motion Picture Unit’s original aim was to inform the Europeans about the facts and figures of Marshall Aid. [T]he directors of the Information Division… believed that ERP publicity could do as much for Europe’s mental depression as ERP shipments could do for Europe’s economic ills. An important tenet of ECA philosophy was fashioned into a slogan: ‘The Marshall Plan – helping people to help each other.’”

Schulberg reported on the commissioning process: “In every country the same basic policy was followed. An ECA Mission requested help from Paris in formulating a national information film program. In the field – to The Hague, to Athens, to Copenhagen – went motion picture specialists to work with the local information officer. Sometimes one film was suggested, sometimes a whole series. Often an outside producer was recommended, more often local artists and technicians were evaluated and assigned on the spot. Every country, every project was another production problem; no single formula could be applied to 18 different nations. A highly professional British company was left almost entirely alone (to their utter astonishment), while a wobbly German group found an ECA film man stationed right in their cutting room (to their utter chagrin). Whenever possible, contractors prepared their own scripts under ECA guidance, and each writer and director was encouraged to develop his own style and approach.”

Hemsing, in his memoir, attests to the lack of control from above: “Policy control? I recall no formal policy control mechanism, such as I had known at OWl or was to encounter later at USIA [U.S. Information Agency]. When a film was in its final cut stage we would show it to one of our Information Division chiefs and read the proposed narration out loud as the film was screened. If the film had been requested by one of our country missions, a representative of that mission was invited. We took reasonable suggestions but, essentially, the die had already been cast.”

Schulberg’s report explained how the films were distributed: “Sometimes producers contracted to secure theatrical distribution for their films; more often ECA retained these rights and placed the films commercially upon completion. At least half the subjects did double duty, and still do, by playing in their own country and in other countries too. With European integration a mainstay of ECA’s information program, films that show one nation how another nation is solving a social or economic problem are much in demand. European distributors – who are just as hard-headed as their American counterparts – say they’re always interested in good shorts. They must find ECA shorts good because they’ve attached them to top American and European features all over the continent….But quality is only half the battle on the distribution front. Taste and subtlety are important elements of propaganda technique. An unwritten ECA law stipulates that the Marshall Plan – and other informational objectives – will not be mentioned more than twice in a one-reeler and three times in a two-reeler. If Americans, seeing the English-language versions of ECA films, feel that the ‘message’ is under-played, let them remember that Europeans have still not recovered from the sledge-hammer blows of Herr Goebbels.”

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