Review of: Projections of America, A film by Peter Miller
Shown as Part of the International Film Festival North Hollywood
April 28th - May 1st, NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., NoHo Arts District
Projections of America is a beautifully lyrical, heartfelt and fascinating film by acclaimed filmmaker Peter Miller. It is the story of an impassioned and devoted group of filmmakers who, during the darkest days of World War II, when the Nazi’s were in retreat and the Allied forces desperate to end the years of devastation, vowed to create films about America that uplifted, comforted and informed liberated survivors.
Many Europeans held wildly confused and negative views of America. The Nazi’s had used cinema for years to undermine the Allied forces, creating elaborate films full of misinformation and lies about every culture other than their own, including America. These films, coupled with America’s own cowboy movies and popular pre-code crime films, full of violence, prisons and organized crime, presented the US in such a negative light that they were often perceived as just another oppressive invader by those they fought to save and protect.
Robert Riskin, himself a hugely successful Hollywood filmmaker and the husband of Fay Wrey, who is also featured in the film, was hired by the US government to produce films that would serve as our own form of counter propaganda, showing American values, using the average hard working American family and portraying them as inclusive, progressive and honorable.
Riskin enlisted a team of talented and established filmmakers and together they produced 26 films specifically for the purpose of showing Europeans that America was an compassionate rescuer, not a conquering oppressor.
These films were never shown in America, and had been long since forgotten.
Government propaganda films hardly have the reputation of being subtle, but Riskin was given complete free reign to create and re-imagine the American dream. The films he produced were as varied as the story of an English boy who is brought to work on a farm and learns what being a cowboy is really all about, to a man who cleaned the windows of the Empire State Building, perhaps an homage to ‘King Kong’ and ‘Autobiography of a Jeep,’ a very popular film, with the jeep telling it’s own humorous story and shown by the allied forces post D-Day.
Regardless of the specific content of each film, the purpose and the tone were always the same, to enlighten, to present the heart of America as that of a liberal, racially mixed and hopeful nation and to encourage those who watched them to aspire to freedom, peace, equality and democracy, even when those high ideals seemed as difficult to reach as they did than in one of the worst times in human history, when even America itself was rocked with uncertainty and division.
And they worked, brilliantly.
Whenever a town was liberated the movie theatre was reopened, or recreated if it no longer stood, and the films were shown. They reassured the populace, they connected with people who had been ravaged and tormented and lived under the yolk of the Nazis. Never have films played such so vital role in connecting hope to their audience.
This documentary is narrated by the sublime John Lithgow, and told with the use of evocative archive material of the transportation and distribution of the films themselves, as well as clips from the films themselves, interwoven with interviews with the filmmakers, critics, and actual audience members from towns liberated during the War. Personal letters between Fay Wray and Robert Riskin, read by their daughter Victoria, frame this story of war, idealism, and the power of cinema with their love and devotion.
This is a powerful and moving film, and an homage to the ability film has to connect to its audience and to change them, fundamentally, and with the kind of immediate intimacy that only art can ever do.
I urge you to attend the screening of Projections of America, sponsored by Van Nuys Jeep, at The NoHo Arts Center at 4pm on Saturday April 30th, and indeed to attend as much of the International Film Festival North Hollywood as you can.
It runs from April 28th through May 1st at NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood.
Tickets are available online…