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Moving Image Archive

Coming soon at IULMIA: Expanding the WWII Propaganda Films and IU exhibit

IU War Films_1943 1

As IULMIA’s WWII Films and IU: Audiovisual Production, Circulation, and Education exhibit approaches it’s one year anniversary, we are excited to announce the upcoming expansion of the exhibit to include 84 newly digitized World War II era films. Beginning June 6, 2015 the exhibit will grow to include access to over 200 titles, many never before available online or on video.

The Second World War era films in IULMIA’s collections represent a founding part of the film collections at IU, as widespread use of motion pictures in training and education took hold during the war years and immediately after. Looking back on his years with the Army Pictorial Service of the Signal Corps, applying the lessons of wartime film use to postwar education, Charles Hoban wrote in his book Movies That Teach:

In the face of unprecedented demands for training millions of men and women to win a war in the most effective way in the shortest possible time, the armed forces and other war-training and morale-building agencies turned to motion pictures with unquestioning faith in their teaching values. During the years immediately preceding and throughout World War II, thousands of motion pictures were made and used on a scale which, in comparison to total possible audiences, exceeded the pre-war use of films both in entertainment and education.

Advantages to teaching with audio-visual aids. From: The Audio-Visual Projectionist’s Handbook (1948)

Indiana University prided itself on being at the forefront of innovation in audiovisual instruction, adopting military uses of moving pictures to civilian training and pedagogy. I.U.’s Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids (BAVA) ascended to prominence over the course of the war years as it lobbied for a greater role for educational film libraries in the distribution of government films¹. Under the leadership of L.C. Larson, the Bureau became a major depository of government produced wartime information, propaganda, and training films, serving as a distributor to audiences in Indiana and the surrounding region.


Hundreds of films acquired or deposited at I.U. during the years of the second World War substantially increased the size of the BAVA film collection, the core of a film distribution library that would grow to tens of thousands of film prints under the custody of the renamed I.U. Audio-Visual Center (IUAVC) by the 1970s. These 16mm prints dating from the war era now constitute some of the oldest materials among the roughly 48,000 prints in the I.U. Libraries Moving Image Archive’s educational film collection.

In June 2014 the I.U. Libraries Moving Image Archive unveiled WWII Propaganda Films and IU, an online exhibit, created using the Omeka platform, providing access to 117 films digitized from original 16mm film prints distributed by the Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids during the war years. Curated from the 1943 War Films catalog issued by the I.U. Extension Division, the exhibit highlights the role of I.U.’s BAVA and educational film libraries in distributing these War-era films to domestic audiences of school and community groups. Increased availability of 16mm sound film projectors, necessary for the government’s dissemination of War Information to citizens, made possible the non-theatrical circulation of films found in the exhibit. Portable exhibition of the smaller 16mm format turned the classroom, 4H meeting, fraternal order, church, or factory floor into the setting in which these film prints from I.U. were screened.

Now, nearly a year later, IULMIA is finishing preparations for the substantial expansion of the WWII Propaganda Films and IU exhibit—set to officially launch June 6, 2015— to include 84 additional digitized films from its collections, representing an even broader sampling of government film production during the WWII era.

Virtually all of the films to be added to site have never before been available online in any form, and most have never seen video release of any kind. All additions to the exhibit, amounting to more than 20 hours of film, are high definition digital transfers of original 16mm prints in circulation during the War era. When the expanded exhibit opens June 6, 2015, a total of 201 WWII era films from IULMIA’s collections will be available for streaming access.

Curation of these additions to the WWII exhibit has emphasized the scope of wartime filmmaking beyond the battlefield and military films that brought news of the war home. Because civilians were the primary audience for films distributed by I.U., subjects concerning domestic life and economy, agriculture and natural resource management, workplace training, and the cultures of the allied nations are especially prevalent in IULMIA’s war era film collections. Additionally, selection for the expanded exhibit has focussed on providing streaming access to historically notable war era films not available through other major online archival collections (U.S. National ArchivesNational Film Board of Canada, Prelinger Archives, and FedFlix all provide access to major collections of WWII related films).

Among the highlights of the expanded exhibit will be many lesser known productions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that were released and widely exhibit during the war years. While many titles such as Farmer’s Wife and Harvest For Victory carry explicit messages of wartime conservation and thrift, an equal number of the USDA’s films from the era articulate less war-specific messages about improved farming practices, conservation of natural resources, land, and water management.

The addition of 10 titles in the U.S. Office of Education’s wartime “Problems in Supervision” series to the exhibit provide a fascinating look at the wartime factory shop floor and assembly line in their mini-dramatizations of workplace conflict. Fans of Supervising Women Workers will be sure to enjoy such titles as Maintaining Workers’ Interest and Placing the Right Man on the Job.

 The productions of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs represent another facet of government sponsored filmmaking in the war years. Dozens of documentary shorts profiling the culture and geography of Central and South America attempted carry out the aims of FDR’s “Good Neighbor Policy” by fostering a sense of solidarity between the nations of the Americas. Many great OCIAA films have been viewable via Prelinger Archives, such as Willard Van Dyke and Ben Maddow’s The Bridge, or the numerous OCIAA films of Julien Bryan. Seventeen wartime OCIAA titles not previously available are among the newly digitized IULMIA films, including lovely Kodachrome prints of travelogues such as The Hill Towns of Guatemala and Sundays In The Valley of Mexico, and the cautionary animated short Water: Friend Or Enemy.

 Before we officially launch the expanded exhibit June 6, we’ll be featuring a few of the outstanding examples among the newly digitized films with posts here. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a closer look at some great examples of these government-produced films, never before available online, intended to inform, train, persuade and inspire domestic audiences during wartime.

Check back soon for these coming attractions for your viewing pleasure here at the IULMIA blog:

  • The singular You Can’t Eat Tobacco (1943), a public health film reporting on impoverished tenant farming communities in coastal North Carolina. Written by Margaret Cussler and photographed on unfailingly beautiful Kodachrome by Mary DeGive,  the film marked the debut of this two woman filmmaking team.
  • High Over The Borders (1942), a U.S.-Canadian co-production whose credits include documentary makers John Ferno and Irving Jacoby, featuring sophisticated high-speed photography, and studying the migratory routes of birds as a symbol of the unity of the nations of the Americas.
  • Farmer At War (1943) a neglected masterpiece credited to The War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry, using stark landscape photography and a social documentarian style to profile the heroic efforts of elderly farmers in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, increasing wartime food production even as farms were vacated by young men.

~Seth Mitter

1. Cook, A.W. (1980). A History of the Indiana University Audio-Visual Center: 1913 to 1975 (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

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