43. Report by the Director of the Scandinavian Branch of the Division of Films, Committee on Public Information (Smith)1


Upon my arrival in Stockholm on April 1, 1918, from Petrograd where I had been connected with the Committee’s office, I was appointed to take charge of the distribution of American official films in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Upon investigation of the situation I found that an immense amount of German propaganda and drama films were being presented in the picture theatres throughout these countries. The Scandinavians like films very much and to the large attendance at the five hundred odd theatres was constantly being conveyed a broad influence—always of course, for the German point of view. The propaganda films showed the success of the Germans and Austrians, scenes in German cities, munition factories, etc., all tending to demonstrate how Germany was winning the war. And there was absolutely no representation as to what the United States was doing. In Sweden, particularly, the German film propaganda was especially damaging toward the existence of any ideas of fair neutrality for the reason that the Swedes were practically all inclined to be pro-German and the influence of these films was a constant stimulus in the same direction.

I foresaw that our films would have to be forced upon the theatres and distributing companies in some way. The supply of American drama films in the country was limited on account of the embargo that had existed, which for a time, had excluded the possibility of importing films from the United States. This condition had made it easy for the German film producers to get in their product but they sold only with the provision that some German propaganda subjects would be taken with the drama films.

After conferences with the representatives of the War Trade Board in Stockholm, Christiania and Copenhagen I formulated the following plan which in its operation practically drove German propaganda and [Page 92] drama films from the Scandinavian market. Shortly before my arrival in Stockholm, the export prohibition on American drama films had been provisionally raised and shipments again began to come—addressed to the American Legations in the various countries. Before releasing these to the consignees, they signed agreements that the films would never be shown in any programme with a German drama or propaganda film and that one reel of official American would always be shown with them. This agreement they in turn made with the theatres before distributing. The three largest companies controlling theatres in Scandinavia further agreed that they would never permit any films previously received to be shown in the same programme with German subjects. Inasmuch as American films were much more popular with the public on account of their superiority, the effect of these agreements were quickly evident. German films were gradually forced out to such an extent that in three months after my arrival it was difficult to find a theatre showing German drama films and the German propaganda films had been completely driven out and replaced by our official films. I kept a close check on the programmes throughout the three countries and in the few instances where theatres did not keep their agreement and showed a German film their ability to get American film was discontinued.

During the eight months I was in Scandinavia, I distributed about 100,000 feet of official films. This included American industrial subjects; Hearst-Pathe and Universal Weeklies showing the Allies war activities and events in the United States; “Pershing’s Crusaders”2 and the Allied War Review. These pictures were first shown in the best theatres of the capitals—Stockholm, Christiania and Copenhagen and then went in rotation to the smaller houses in these cities and afterward throughout the other cities and towns of the three countries. Thus, where previously this immense number of theatregoers had received pictured war news, only through German eyes they now saw what we were doing, and, in the industrial subjects, the big American interests, and the drama films thoroughly American in subject and characters instead of German.

In the motion picture announcements of a recent copy of a Stockholm newspaper I noticed that out of twelve theatres, eleven were showing completely American programmes and one French, but no German films were announced. Apparently German lines have not come back although it is several months since our control ended.

Guy Crosswell Smith
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 63, Entry 106, Correspondence, Cables, Reports, and Newspapers Received from Employees of the Committee Abroad, Nov. 1917–Apr. 1919, Box 21, Smith, Buy—Berne—Cables Jan June ’19. No classification marking. Smith forwarded the report to Rickey under a June 1 covering letter written from New York.
  2. For Pershing’s Crusaders, see the Online Supplement, Appendix A.11.