More than 40 years and seven presidential administrations have passed since Orson Welles narrated Freedom River. And although it shows signs of age, the animated film, a parable about the role of immigration, race, and wealth in America, still resonates today. Actually, given the cynical exploitation of xenophobia during this most unpresidential of presidential campaigns, you could say that Freedom River strikes a bigger chord than it has in years. That’s why, after a five year hiatus, we’re featuring the animation once again on Open Culture.
The backstory behind the film deserves a little mention. According to Joseph Cavella, a writer for the film, it took a little cajoling and perseverance to get Orson Welles involved in 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.
Indeed, they were.
Directed by Sam Weiss, Freedom River tells the story of decline–of a once great nation lapsing into ugliness. Despite the myths we like to tell ourselves here in America, the ugliness has always been there. Xenophobia, greed, racism (you could add a few more traits to the list) are nothing new. They just tend to surface more during hard times, or when demagogues make it permissible, which is precisely what we’re seeing right now. Fortunately, Orson Welles’s narration leaves us with room to hope, with room to believe that wisdom will prevail and that people will find better options than what the provocateurs have to offer.
You can find Freedom River in the the Animation section of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
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