The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently partnered with the University of Maryland’s Cinema and Media Studies Program to present Films of State: Moving Images Made by Governments, a virtual conference running from April 7 to 9, 2021, highlighting current scholarship on the topic of government films and filmmaking. This inaugural conference featured international participation, with presenters from institutions in North America, Asia, and Europe, and attracted nearly 600 registrants. We are happy to report that the conference sessions are now being posted for viewing on the National Archives YouTube Channel, with full closed-captioning available. A playlist may be found here.
The conference kicked off with welcoming remarks from John Bertot and Luka Arsenjuk of the University of Maryland, and Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, followed by an engaging and informative keynote address from George Stevens Jr., who served as the Director of the United States Information Agency’s Motion Picture Service under presidents Kennedy and Johnson. The conference panels covered film scholarship related to public diplomacy, our government’s relationship to its land and its people, and the textual materials that enhance our understanding of government film history. Another panel highlighted some of the many uses of government films outside of academia, including by museums, filmmakers, and educators. The conference closed with a series of workshops to guide attendees in beginning their own research into government moving images at NARA.
A screenshot of Sarah Eilers’ presentation from Panel 3, “Using Government Film.”
There were also opportunities for attendees to view some of the gems in the NARA holdings. The Motion Picture Preservation Lab produced a 10-minute highlight reel covering 75 years of government filmmaking, from the earliest film showing a test of the Wright Flyer all the way up to a hip hop-themed anti-drug public service announcement. NARA staff, working with Brian Real of Southern Connecticut State University, also programmed Screening the State, an evening screening featuring selections from government films. Several of the films in this program feature wonderful original piano scores composed and performed by pianist Andrew Earle Simpson for the screening. Burton Blume narrated a reconstruction of a World War II film shot by his father, and Hadi Gharabaghi, Yoonjoo Strumfels, and Dong Eun Kim provided translated subtitles for Iranian and Korean newsreels.
The Films of State conference could not have been a success without the contributions of so many, both inside and outside of NARA. Audrey Amidon and I would like to thank Oliver Gaycken of the University of Maryland, Martin Johnson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Brian Real for their work in planning the conference. At NARA, we thank those involved in the planning—Dan Rooney, Ellen Mulligan, Carol Swain, and Criss Austin—as well as those who presented and participated in panel discussions—Steve Graybill, Nick Schwartz, Stephanie Greenhut, Alexandra Geitz, Cate Brennan, Ashley Behringer, Caitlin Hucik, Sarah Lepianka, and Billy Wade. We are very grateful to all the conference participants for sharing their meaningful work and research on government films and starting conversations and collaborations we hope will persist!
For background information on how the Films of State conference came to be, take a look at these posts on the Unwritten Record blog: