USIS Films - Trieste Record


Italy; United States


The United States Information Service audiovisual record is of 506 films (mainly 16 or 35mm sound reels, conserved in over seven hundred boxes), produced partly in the United States, partly in Italy and partly in other European countries between 1941 and 1966 for propaganda and information purposes, and/or with a didactic-educational vocation.

Varying in genre, the collection includes mostly documentaries, newsreels, fiction and animated films. The subjects and themes are just as varied: agricultural, industrial and artisan activities; Italian post-war reconstruction (seen from both the American and local perspectives); the social and political organization of the United States; living conditions in Eastern European countries; daily life in all its aspects; art, sports, the dissemination of technical and scientific knowledge; didactic descriptions of trades and activities; everyday problems and major international issues, such as collective security or European integration.

It is, therefore, an extremely rich and interesting collection, all the more so since it constitutes the only known film library that has not been lost, among the ten set up in postwar Italy by American information agencies.

The recovery of this "celluloid-made treasure" began in 1984 when, during the work of the Surveillance Commission on the archives of the Government Commissariat in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region, the director of the State Archives in Trieste, Ugo Cova, found six hundred and seventy-four film reels in boxes. Three years later, the documentary record was transferred to the Central State Archives (ACS), becoming the first and most consistent nucleus of audiovisual documentation preserved at that institution. Given, however, that the ACS did not have the proper instruments to process and file film material, the work of recovery and cataloguing was entrusted to the Audiovisual Archive of the Workers' and Democratic Movement (AAMOD).

The nationality of the films in the collection is distributed almost equally between the United States and Italy, with a relatively small presence of material produced in other European countries. In this context, the American production represents the "oldest" nucleus and is made up, overall, of two hundred and thirty documentaries and thirty-three newsreels made, for the most part, between the 1940s and the 1950s and including a series of films dating back to the war years. Among these are The Tennesse Valley, produced in 1944 by the Overseas Branch of the OWI, The Care of the Newborn, an educational film by Walt Disney, and the seven documentaries of the cycle "Panoramas of America. Series of paintings", produced by OWI or USIS and all revolving around the key ideas of technological progress and democratic life. The twenty "training films" of a strongly didactic nature produced by the Division of Visual Aids of the US Office of Education also date back to the years of the World War. In this case, the audiovisual medium becomes an instrument to teach technical operations, generally employed in factories. As a matter of fact, the industrial film was very popular in the United States and considered useful for increasing productivity.

The sixty documentaries produced within the framework of the Marshall Plan can be included in the American nucleus, even though some of them were, in fact, realized by European producers. These films were all produced between 1948 and 1953 (first by the ECA and then by the MSA) and were dedicated to general topics or concepts, as well as to concrete situations in various European countries or, in some cases, to the specific Italian context.

In a certain line of continuity with the films of the Marshall Plan, there are also those with anti-communist content. The contrast between the Western model and the Soviet model is, in fact, more or less implied in numerous films. It is, however, possible to identify at least eight documentaries in which the anti-communist content is made explicit and the attack against the Soviet Union is direct. These are films produced between 1956 and 1960, four of which were made following the Hungarian revolt and dedicated to it. The other four, instead, were about: the escape to Western Europe of two Hungarian dancers and of a student from Czechoslovakia; to the contrast between life in a village in the Federal Republic of Germany and life in a Czechoslovakian village; the fourth is an animated picture with strong and pungent ironic tones, entitled Men and Chickens, which criticizes the communist trade union model.

The American production of a documentary nature was accompanied by thirty-three newsreels, belonging to three different series: "Cinegiornale USA" (seven reels) Pagine Americane" (twelve reels, one of which is preserved in a double Italian and Slovenian version) and "La rivista cinematografica" (fourteen reels). The content of these films was aimed at familiarizing Italians with the United States, from the presentation of specific institutions, such as the military academy at West Point, to that of the various American states and monuments, or of American citizens. But there are also "excerpts" dedicated to life in many American cities, captured in a daily dimension, or in situations of celebration and folklore, such as to show the principles at the basis of civil coexistence in the United States.

As far as Italian produced films are concerned, the majority of these date from the 1950s, even though, in many cases, the documentaries do not indicate the date of their production, making it difficult to reconstruct their progressive sedimentation within the record. Even in this case, however, it is possible to identify some sub-nuclei, the main one of which represents the most consistent group. These are the sixty-four documentaries, produced from 1952 onwards on behalf of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and the object of an exchange of audiovisual material between the USIS and the Documentation Centre. These are films (often docu-fictions) produced by the government and, therefore, institutional sources of information, most of which had the purpose of showing the economic recovery and development from North to Souch and, clearly, the fundamental role played by the State. However, there is no lack of documentaries on national public institutions, or portraits of famous artists of the past, such as Giotto, Borromini or Cellini.

The core of the Italian production also includes twenty documentaries specifically dedicated to Trieste, some of which were produced by the General Commissariat of the Government for the Territory of Trieste (instituted in 1954) and many of which are mostly dedicated to showing the economic recovery of the area, or to underlining its Italian character.

Another group of Italian films includes a documentary (Torre Amendola date "K", produced in 1955-57) and eleven investigations, related to the series "Le inchieste del Telegiornale," produced by RAI between 1954 and 1956, that is, at a time when Italian television was still taking its first steps. This series includes the only documentaries of Italian production that do not have Italy as their subject: three are dedicated to Holland, while two others are dedicated, respectively, to the recovery and reconstruction in the Federal Republic of Germany (German Panorama) and to the evolution and progress made in Denmark (Danish Village).

Also belonging to the nucleus of Italian production are two issues of "La Settimana Incom" and thirty-two documentaries produced by the reconstituted Istituto Luce, many of which are of considerable interest and also dedicated primarily to the problems and progress of Italian development, or to scenes of daily life in a country reborn from ruins. Finally, the Italian nucleus includes thirty-four newsreels belonging to the series "Oggi e domani. Panoramas di vita e lavoro della nuova Europa". These were all produced between 1950 and 1958, by Ovest Film or Santa Monica.

Compared to the newsreels of American production, the propagandistic intent in the Italian newsreels is less evident and the content is mainly informative.

The series of newsreels "Rassegna mensile d'Europa" was conceived in Italy but consisted of material produced in Europe. Nine reels of this series have been preserved, and they too are divided into several sections and dedicated exclusively to events in other European countries.

In general, however, from a stylistic point of view and with regard to Italian newsreels and documentaries, it can be noted that, in those dating back to the initial phase of the first post-war years, the expressive forms are not very distant from those used by the Fascist regime; the tone of the commentary is, in fact, often the same as that adopted in Luce newsreels of the 1930s, while the background marches, the "triumphalist" shots, and the sometimes rhetorical and redundant text remain.

Only in the films produced from the mid-fifties did the situation seem to change definitively, with a modernization of the texts and exposition style, stimulated as much by a certain American influence as by the advent of television. More and more, in fact, the cut of the shots becomes modern, while the editing seems to be in rhythm with the speed of the times, and even jazz sometimes makes its appearance in the background.

In terms of content, the Italian production is not too far removed from the American one, at least in the choice of macro-topics (reconstruction, European integration, progress in agriculture and industry, the transportation and communications network, scenes of daily life, etc.). If, however, the American-made films do not go beyond the 1950s, there are about twenty Italian documentaries produced from 1960 onwards (the most recent being Italians in the World, produced in 1965 by Opus Film on behalf of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and dedicated to various Italian exports in the world). In most cases, these films are dedicated to the modernization of the country, to important events, such as the Rome Olympics of 1960, or even the construction of the Autostrada del Sole highway.

A special case are the nine documentaries in Slovene, three of which are also conserved in Italian copies and the presence of which is connected to the existence of a Slovene-speaking minority population in Zone A of the FTT.

The undoubtedly most interesting feature of the documentaries of Italian production is the way in which they convey a precise idea of Italian-style modernization: a model of modernity based on an ideal combination of innovation and tradition. In this context, even the support of the first forms of mass production and consumption is accompanied, in Italian documentaries, by a patriotic rhetoric dominated by the image of Made in Italy, a label - it should be noted - now appreciated and exported throughout the world, including the United States.

Related Vectors


United States Information Agency

USIS Italy

Network of United States Information Service in Italy

Media gallery


Archivio Central dello Stato (ACS) - YouTube Portal:

Barbera, Giulia and Giovanna Tosatti (eds.). United States Information Service di Trieste. Catalogo del fondo cinematografico (1941-1966). Roma: Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali – Direzione Generale degli Archivi, 2007.

Crisanti, Giulia. "Modernizzazione in celluloide. Le politiche di informazione americane in Italia e il Fondo USIS di Trieste (1941-1966)." Master Diss., University of Pisa, 2015.

Bonifazio, Paola. Schooling in modernity: the politics of sponsored films inpostwar Italy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.

Pellecchia, Mattia. "L’amico americano: il fondo USIS e la propaganda del Piano Marshall." Maste Diss., Roma: Sapienza - Università di Roma, 2013.

Author Giulia Crisanti