Screening Propaganda: Marshall Plan Films in Postwar Greece

The Marshall Plan and European Recovery
The Marshall Plan and European Recovery

The history of propaganda cinema has been largely written within the contours of the filmic text. Little attention has been paid to a crucial cog of the propaganda machinery: the exhibition sites where the encounter with the intended receivers takes place. In the strategies of exhibiting the Marshall Plan (MP) films (1948-53) in post-war Europe through both theatrical and non-theatrical networks, we encounter a characteristic case of a ‘top down’ force that generated new modes of film exhibition. To ensure the widest possible dissemination of information and propagation about US’s financial aid to Europe (officially known as the European Recovery Program), and ultimately its new geo-political dominance, non-theatrical exhibition in non-urban areas was crucial for the success of the MP propaganda strategies, especially in Greece, where the MP arrived at a moment of civil war between the communist-led Democratic Army of Greece and the US/UK-backed government army. Civil war battles mainly took place in non-urban and remote areas of Greece, where the local population was often subjected to propaganda from both sides. This geo-political situation is a subtext underlying the propaganda discourse in the MP film Island Odyssey (1950), which features the itinerary of a MP showboat, as it tours the Greek islands and sets up open-air screenings of films that explain how the American aid is helping and transforming the Greek economy. My paper will address the historical geo-political forces that feature in Island Odyssey; the ideological meaning of the title’s Homeric invocations in relation to the liberal humanist discourses of the time; and how these are related to the mode of non-theatrical exhibition that the film promotes.

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