Classical Antiquity as Humanitarian Narrative: Marshall Plan Films about Greece

This paper aims to contribute to the histories of global humanitarianism with a case study on the Marshall Plan (MP) films about Greece (1948-52). Amongst recent scholarship on the Marshall Plan film propaganda, there has been a growing interest in national case studies, such as Ireland, Austria and Italy. The case of Greece has not been explored so far. I will thus consider a small number of MP films about Greece, where the tensions between cinema’s drive for projecting utopian futures and the ‘nightmare of history’ and humanitarian disaster become visible through documentary film’s unique ability to transpose the history and the present into future promises. This applies, of course, to all MP films produced and distributed in Western Europe to propagate not only information about the European Recovery Programme (the official name of the MP), but most crucially to shape the projection of Western Europe’s future through a humanitarian narrative that was dressed within a utilitarian discourse of liberal humanism. In the case of MP films about Greece’s post-war reconstruction, this projection takes a special form, framed by narratives that promote a historical dialectic between modern and classical Greece. The case of the short documentary The Good Life (1951) is of special interest. Initiated by the British documentarian Humphrey Jennings in September 1950, The Good Life propagates post-WW2 (1945-) and post-civil war (1949-) reconstruction of Greece’s health system in relation to the country’s classical past. Building on recent scholarship about ‘useful cinema’ (Acland and Wasson, 2011), this paper will discuss the audio-visual rhetoric of this film in relation to the developing formation of a new geo-political context and alongside it a new humanitarian narrative for the future of post-WW2 Europe.

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