An Odyssey of Floating Cinema: Showboat Exhibition of Marshall Plan Films in Postwar Greece

A case of ‘ideological film exhibition’ can be found in the strategies of exhibiting the Marshall Plan Films (1948-53) in post-war Europe through both theatrical and non-theatrical networks. Little researched and contextualized, the Marshal Plan Films Project is a characteristic case of a ‘top down’ force that generated new modes of film exhibition in order to ensure the widest possible dissemination of information about the Marshall Plan aid in Europe. This is clearly manifested in the Marshall Plan sponsored film Island Odyssey (1950), which features the itinerary of a showboat exhibit on the European Recovery Program, as it visits Greek islands and sets up open-air screenings of films that explain how the American aid is helping Greece. The very title of the film, Island Odyssey, invites links with the Homeric epic, and the voice over explicitly states this: ‘from island to island renowned in legend and history, from port to port that once knew the tiny barges of Phoenecian traders and the war galleys of the Athenian Republic, the showboat carries its cargo, a portable open air exhibit telling the story of Marshall aid’. It is no coincidence that this American boat is actually named after the American philhellene Samuel Gridley Howe, who inspired by Lord Byron, had supported the war for Greek independence and sailed for Greece in 1824. But more striking are the invocations of the classical past, as they become enmeshed within the US liberal humanist ideology of the time that projects a teleological line of continuity: from the Athenian Republic to the American promise of a free world. Other Marshall Plan films about Greece with similar narratives included those by Dutch documentarian John Ferno Return from the Valley (1950) and Corinth Canal (1950); as well as another film with the telling title Victory at Thermopylae (David Kurland, 1950); and Humphrey Jennings’s last film The Good Life. The underlying subtext in all these Marshall Plan films about Greece is that its propaganda fulfilled the purpose of not only promoting American aid but also of counter-acting anti-marshall propaganda, because Greece was the only country of the Western block where Civil war erupted at the end of the Second World War, between the left and the right wing political poles. Therefore, the subtext of Island Odyssey is that reconstruction of Greece stands for reconstruction of the whole of Europe, because Greece is projected as the birthplace of Democracy and European civilisation