Projections of America
PROJECTIONS OF AMERICA is the story of a team of idealistic filmmakers who, during the darkest days of World War II, hoped the power of the movies could reshape the world. As Allied forces liberated Western Europe, the military campaign was accompanied by a vast propaganda effort, and at its center were 26 short documentaries about American life targeted at the newly liberated populations.
The PROJECTIONS OF AMERICA films presented American stories – of cowboys and oilmen, farmers and window washers, immigrants and school children – capturing the optimism and messiness of American democracy. The gorgeously crafted films were idealized versions of what America could be, created by politically engaged filmmakers who wanted to fundamentally change America itself while fighting tyranny abroad. The project was headed up by the Academy Award-winning Hollywood screenwriter Robert Riskin, who had written many of Frank Capra’s greatest films. Riskin’s personal and political journey, including his passionate romance with the beautiful movie actress, Fay Wray (King Kong), is the dramatic heart of the story. Teaming up with an improbable collection of brilliant filmmakers – including Josef von Sternberg and John Houseman, as well as many of the giants in the documentary field – Riskin created some of the most indelible images of America ever put to film.
More than a film about filmmaking, PROJECTIONS OF AMERICA is a story about the audacity of trying to build a better world in the midst of the most devastating conflict in human history. The emotionally charged story is narrated by the acclaimed actor John Lithgow, and told through rare and evocative archival materials, including pristine new transfers of the “Projections” films themselves, interwoven with interviews with filmmakers, audience members, and film critics. Passionate letters between Robert Riskin and Fay Wray, read by actors, frame this story of war, idealism, and cinema in an unforgettable, personal narrative.
Metta Media Award, Dallas VideoFest 2015
International Festival of Films on Art, Montreal 2015
Stony Brook Film Festival 2015
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 2015
Dallas VideoFest 2015
Virginia Film Festival 2015
Boston Jewish Film Festival 2015
Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival 2015
Santa Fe Film Festival 2015
New York Jewish Film Festival 2016
Santa Barbara Film Festival 2016
San Diego Jewish Film Festival 2016
Beaufort International Film Festival 2016
Chicago Jewish Film Festival 2016
Salem Film Fest 2016
North Hollywood International Film Festival 2016
The Los Angeles Beat: As with the best films about filmmaking and filmmakers the pleasures of PROJECTIONS OF AMERICA, Peter Miller’s wonderful addition to what is becoming one of the preeminent bodies of work in current documentary cinema, are multi-layered. And as the narrative of this profoundly moving film unfolds it is difficult to sort out whether the wonderment is more from the story itself, the beauty with which it is told or the drama and suffering of the world war within which it takes place.
Forward: A documentary gem.
Dallas Film Now: A lovingly crafted homage to screenwriter Robert Riskin and his team of Hollywood artists who assisted in the war effort by producing and spreading our own propaganda films immediately after liberating certain countries. Initially – and rightfully – distrustful of the Allied forces, Riskin’s films of everyday life in America… helped to lessen the citizen’s unease… PROJECTIONS OF AMERICA touches deeply on two of my favorite subjects – World War II and the movies – which only endeared the documentary to my heart and many festival goers as well.
The Jewish Week: Miller wisely chooses Riskin as his point of entry into the subject, not only because as a Jewish-American Riskin had a lot at stake in the war and its aftermath, but because as a veteran of a particular moment in Hollywood history, Riskin brought an unusual skill set to the task of introducing the rest of the world to the still relatively unfamiliar American way(s) of life. Add to that Riskin’s winning personality and eloquence, and the story of his courtship of and marriage to Fay Wray, and you have a splendid armature for what might otherwise have been just another piece of Hollywood Americana.
This Week In New York: Together, PROJECTIONS OF AMERICA and THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A JEEP shed light on a fascinating aspect of what the country believed itself to be and what its hopes and dreams were for the future.
Unseen Films: You’ll forgive me if this is brief because the film is nigh impossible to critique. A breezy, no nonsense film it tells you everything you need to know about the films and why their shunting to a back alley of film history is a real shame.
Santa Fe New Mexican: PROJECTIONS OF AMERICA is especially timely, as politicians and citizens argue over immigration and refugee issues in the wake of terrorist attacks and civil wars raging outside of our borders, as well as the very nature of what it means to be an American.
Huffington Post: One of the documentaries featured in the 35th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival focuses on the cinematic propaganda machine created by the United States Office of War Information. The agency’s efforts aimed at domestic audiences were obviously intended to support the war effort. What most people don’t know is that the OWI’s newsreels were produced under the leadership of screenwriter Robert Riskin (won an Oscar in 1935 for It Happened One Night) and was a frequent collaborator with director Frank Capra. Riskin was also married to Fay Wray (the star of 1933’s King Kong). Without a doubt, the favorite OWI film shown around the world was 1943’s THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A JEEP. Narrated by John Lithgow, Peter Miller’s documentary, PROJECTIONS OF AMERICA, pays tribute to the work of Riskin and the OWI’s secret film unit.
48 Hills (San Francisco): If you are a fan of Frank Capra’s greatest films then you unknowingly are a fan of the Oscar winning screenwriter, Robert Riskin. The dynamic duo of Capra and Riskin swept all the main categories at the Oscars in 1935 for It Happened One Night (1934), a feat only two other films in history have done, and continued to churn out some of the most important “All-American” films of the Depression including Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and You Can’t Take It With You (1938) followed by lesser known masterpieces: Meet John Doe(1941), Lady for a Day (1933) and American Madness (1932). Understandably, both were called on to help “the good fight” of WWII (as were other giants at the time like John Ford and Orson Welles). While many people have heard of Frank Capra’s flag-waving Why We Fight propaganda films, made to counterbalance Adolph Hitler’s movies like Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935), very few Americans have ever heard of Robert Riskin’s decidedly different approach to pro-American sentiments. Talk about a screening not to miss!
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A film by Peter Miller
Narrated by John Lithgow
Based on an idea by
Antje Boehmert & Christian Popp
Written by: Peter Miller
Director of Photography: Antonio Rossi
Editor: Amy Linton
Sound Designer: Brit Warner
Music: Eike Hosenfeld, Moritz Denis, Tim Stanzel
Archival Research: Elisabeth M. Hartjens, Michelle Gordon, David Stumpp
Senior Adviser and Story Consultant: Ian Scott
Historical Adviser: Marja Roholl
Producers: Antje Boehmert, Peter Miller, Christian Popp
Commissioning Editors ZDF: Martin Pieper, Türkân Schirmer
Length: 52 min
Release Date: 2015
Produced by DOCDAYS Productions and Willow Pond Films in co-production with ZDF in collaboration with ARTE. Developed with support by Creative Europe | Media. Distributed by PBS International.