'Projections of America': Film Review

Courtesy of PBS International
An informative slice of history enlivened by a Hollywood love story.

John Lithgow narrates the brief history of America's WWII "propaganda of truth" campaign.

Most film buffs know of Why We Fight, the series of movies, directed by Frank Capra, meant to build support for America's involvement in World War II. Much less famous is Projections of America, in which Capra's Oscar-winning frequent screenwriter Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night, et cetera) hoped to convince the rest of the world that the Americans manning those tanks and bombers were their friends. Offering a cogent history of this project while finding room for non-martial human interest, Peter Miller's account of the films' making, Projections of America, appeals to both history and film-history enthusiasts. It will be welcomed in educational venues and on video.

John Lithgow narrates a story that focuses on Riskin despite the fact that, once he got this project rolling, the films were made using a deep pool of professional talent. Critic Kenneth Turan explains the job facing Riskin (and the Office of War Information, within which it operated), "Hollywood had been too efficient," in telling the stories it sent around the globe, "and people thought America was what they saw in the movies."

Projections would focus on the nation's humbler charms. Here, for instance, a movie about cowboys would offer not battles with Indians but real ranch chores; iconic Americana like the Empire State Building would be the backdrop for the story of the ordinary (albeit fearless) Joe who dangled on a harness to wash its windows. Not that it wouldn't use star power now and then: The first featurette, Swedes in America, was hosted by Ingrid Bergman.

While describing the vast exposure these films got and the attitude-shaping impact they had, Miller keeps returning to Riskin's relationship with his supportive wife, actress Fay Wray. He also offers a glimpse of the Red Scare to come, in part a backlash against the notion, embodied in the Projections, that entertainment might also aim to shape the values of those who enjoyed it.

Production companies: Docdays Productions, Willow Pond Films

Director-Screenwriter: Peter Miller         

Producers: Antje Boehmert, Peter Miller, Christian J. Popp

Director of photography: Antonio Rossi         

Editor: Amy Linton

Composers: Moritz Denis, Eike Hosenfeld, Tim Stanzel

Venue: JCC Manhattan

52 minutes