Selling America Abroad: Tibor Hirsch and the United States Information Agency Film Program

Friday, April 18, 2014 - 12:00pm
Hornbake Media Library Room H

Brian Real, a PhD candidate in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, will present a significantly updated and revised version of a paper he gave at the 2013 Northeast Historic Film Summer Symposium.

In the 1960s, during the height of the Cold War, the United States Information Agency was responsible for telling America's story around the world. These efforts included the agency's own film production program, as well as a massive distribution network for nontheatrical films that presented the United States in a positive light. Although millions of people around the world saw these films, these works and this distribution network are currently understudied in the film studies community. This is likely due, in large part, to the fact that federal law prevented the United States government from showing propaganda to its own citizens and, therefore, the films of the USIA could not be shown in the United States until legislation signed by George H. W. Bush allowed these films to be screened on American soil. Therefore, the work of the USIA went largely unnoticed by American scholars at the height of the agency's production and distribution activities.

This presentation will not only highlight the efforts of the Motion Picture division of the USIA, but it will also analyze the works of an exceptional filmmaker, Tibor Hirsch. Hirsch was a Holocaust survivor and, in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, a refugee finding a new life in the United States. Hirsch had previously gained experience as a photojournalist in his native Hungary, which allowed him to develop this career in the United States. Hirsch later moved on to documentary film production, and was a natural fit for the political goals of the USIA. While some of Hirsch's films may seem like frivolous fun on the surface, they contact sharply pointed political messages that show his disdain for Soviet oppression.