Exhibition Reel of Two Color Film (ca. 1929)

An experimental color short in Brewster Color, preserved by George Eastman House and presented on the More Treasures DVD set.

Long-suppressed WWII Documentary
Spotlights Treatment of “Shell-Shocked” Veterans

National Archives and NFPF Debut Restoration on Memorial Day Weekend

Contact: Barbara Gibson (NFPF, 510-531-4521, gibson@filmpreservation.com)

San Francisco, CA (May 24, 2012)—The National Archives’s new restoration of Let There Be Light (1946), John Huston’s controversial World War II documentary about the rehabilitation of psychologically scarred combat veterans, will screen on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s website beginning on May 24. The free presentation, made possible by Fandor, will run from Memorial Day weekend through the end of August.

The third in the World War II trilogy commissioned from Academy Award–winning director John Huston by the US Army Signal Corps, Let There Be Light follows the treatment of emotionally traumatized GIs from their admission at a racially integrated psychiatric hospital to their reentry into civilian life. Made decades before post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) entered the vocabulary, the documentary was created to help Americans understand the challenges faced by returning veterans and to demonstrate that the psychological wounds of war, though very real, could heal through therapy.

Huston’s compassionate portrayal was too much for the top military brass, which pulled the film shortly before its premiere at the Museum of Modern Art and commissioned a replacement in which white actors took all the speaking roles. Let There Be Light was first shown publicly in December 1980, after a chorus of Hollywood leaders, joined by Vice President Walter Mondale, persuaded the Secretary of the Army to authorize its release.

The restoration will be available for free streaming and downloading and presented with extras providing historical context, including:

  • The Battle of San Pietro (1945), the second film in Huston’s WWII trilogy
  • The Reawakening (1919), about the treatment of returning WWI veterans
  • A documentary about the National Archives’ film preservation operations
  • Program notes about the film and its restoration

Let There Be Light was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 2010. “The mental trauma of the soldiers depicted in the Huston documentary made visceral to my generation, which came of age after WWII and Korea, just what is the cost in individual lives of any war, even of a ‘good war,’” commented John Bailey, who represents the American Society of Cinematographers on the National Film Preservation Board. “Let There Be Light is as timely and, sadly, as painful to watch today as it was more than sixty years ago. Its shadow looms over the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The motion picture holds a special place in documentary film history for its almost unprecedented use of unscripted interviews. It’s only now, with the new soundtrack restoration, that these interviews—many with battle-weary soldiers who can only mumble or whisper personal stories—can be heard with their full emotional force. The services to restore the soundtrack for Let There Be Light were donated by Chace Audio by Deluxe through the NFPF grant program. Hosting the premiere is Fandor, a curated on-demand movie service for independent and international narrative and documentary films.

About the NFPF. The National Film Preservation Foundation is the nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America’s film heritage. Since opening its doors in 1997, the NFPF has supported film preservation in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico and has helped save more than 1,900 films. The NFPF is the charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.

About the National Archives. The National Archives and Records Administration is the independent federal agency that preserves and shares with the public records that trace the story of our nation, government, and the American people. From the Declaration of Independence to accounts of ordinary Americans, the holdings of the National Archives directly touch the lives of millions of people. The National Archives carries out its mission through a nationwide network of archives, records centers, and Presidential Libraries, and on the Internet at www.archives.gov.

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