During World War II, a team of idealistic film-makers hoped that the power of film could reshape the world. As Allied forces liberated Western Europe, the military campaign was accompanied by a vast propaganda effort that centered on 26 short documentaries about American life targeted at the newly liberated populations.
The group of films was referred to as Projections of America / The American Scene film series and was projected in bombed-out theaters across Europe which were quickly mustered into service. The purpose of the films was to familiarize residents of the many countries across which United States forces marched with what the United States stands for and why.
The 14th film in the series, which Heritage House is featuring in May, is The Cummington Story. Many times described as the cinematic equivalent of artist Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings, The Cummington Story depicts the transition of war refugees as they begin new lives in a small Massachusetts town towards the end of the war.
The film was directed by Helen Grayson (one of the few female filmmakers of the time), assisted by cameraman Larry Madison. Also, since it was only intended for overseas distribution, the film has rarely been seen in the U.S. since its initial release.
Heritage House ends the evening by bringing things up-to-date with the film Refugee Kids: One School Takes On the World. In this documentary newly arrived students spend six weeks at the International Rescue Committee's New York-based boot camp for children seeking asylum from some of the world's most volatile conflicts.
The film presents an intimate, emotionally gripping account of the students’ stories of escaping war and conflict and resettling in America, chronicling their triumphs and setbacks as their lives unfold over the course of one formative summer. The film also manages to humanize complex geopolitics and depict the challenges and urgency of immigration to America in an increasingly dangerous – and interconnected – world, said officials.
The screenings will be at Heritage House Arts and Civic Center, 1428 Jenkins Road, on Thursday at 2 and 7 p.m. Admission is free.
Refugee Kids: One School Takes on the World is 40 minutes, Projections of America runs for 52 minutes and The Cummington Story is 20 minutes.