Freedom River: A Parable Told by Orson Welles

Almost 40 years (and seven presidential administrations) have passed since Orson Welles narrated Freedom River. And although the animation shows some age, the parable, the commentary on America, still resonates today. Or, at least I suspect many viewers will think so.

The backstory behind the film deserves a little mention. According to Joseph Cavella, a writer for the film:

For several years, Bosustow Productions had asked Orson Welles, then living in Paris, to narrate one of their films. He never responded. When I finished the Freedom River script, we sent it to him together with a portable reel to reel tape recorder and a sizable check and crossed our fingers. He was either desperate for money or (I would rather believe) something in it touched him because two weeks later we got the reel back with the narration word for word and we were on our way.

And now another Orson Welles bonus. Tonight, we stumbled upon Welles’ 1937 radio dramatization of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, Les MisĂ©rables. You can stream/download recordings at the Internet Archive, or find it listed in our Free Audio Books collection. A previous Open Culture post points you to other vintage Welles radio recordings (including his famous War of the Worlds broadcast) right here.

For more free films, visit our mega list of Free Movies Online.



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  1. Ryan_mcdade3 says . . . | May 7, 2011 / 6:20 pm

    What is meant by “freedom” in this parable?

    What is meant when the machines on the banks of the polluted river declare that “the river will be shut off”?

    The parable speaks of people taking “more than their share”. Who defines how much someones share is? Who enforces that decision? Isn’t the decision and the enforcement a deprivation of freedom?

    When the people are going about in boats and a heap of litter is tossed into the river the statement is quite obviously about pollution. Who decides when it is acceptable to throw flotsam into the river? Who enforces that decision? Isn’t the decision and the enforcement a deprivation of freedom?

    What this parable fails to mention is that the people did not acquire the land as a place of beautiful freedom. The land of freedom was inhabited by “savages” who were slaughtered, diseased, and oppressed. Their freedom was taken from them so that another race could have its glorious destiny manifested.

    What this parable also fails to mention is that the land was not cultivated by the hands of happy little white farmers. This lands agricultural base grew from tobacco and cotton plantations where an entire race of people were deprived of their freedom and dignity.

    The parable says that new ideas are mocked, the young children who question things are called ungrateful, and all immigrants are refused.

    These statements are false. There may be a culture of orthodoxy and conformity in this country but there is great freedom of expression as well. There are those who call the youth ungrateful, sometimes they are right. To say that all immigrants are refused and people should simply remember that we were immigrants at one time is a statement about a policy that is much more complex than they are making it seem.

    Overall I think its rubbish.

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