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History Film Forum

Welcome to the History Film Forum

In his 1962 interview with French director Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock said that filmmaking, which he considered the most powerful media in human history, was primarily about elongating and contracting time. In view of this immense influence of film to reach and emotionally connect with audiences, as well as its manipulation of time, what are the implications for films about history? While the research, writing, and exhibitions of historians and curators shed new light on the past and engage many people every year, countless more connect with and learn about the past through movies. 

I love films about history. When Ken Burns’s The Civil War debuted 25 years ago, I was swept away along with millions of other viewers. I grew up watching World War II movies like Patton and Tora! Tora! Tora! Sometimes I get wound up when films take liberties with facts from my area of study. But more often I’m captivated by the emotional truth good films present when they re-create a past time. 

During the Smithsonian’s new collaboration with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the History Film Forum, we will look at both narrative and documentary films as applied history. By looking at several brand new films that illuminate the Secrets of American History, we will consider the issues that arise when true stories of the past become the subject of our on-screen entertainment.  

We hope you will join us.
​- Christopher WilsonExecutive Director and Forum Curator

About the History Film Forum

The History Film Forum is a four-day exploration of history on the screen. Millions of people learn history from movies but history as entertainment brings up important questions for artists and scholars alike. A collaboration of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Forum brings together experts and audiences to examine the state of both narrative and documentary history film as vehicles for teaching and interpreting history.

The Forum is unique in its connection of audiences, historians, filmmakers, journalists, and policy leaders at our National Museum.

When do films offer “good” history? What can films reveal to us about the nature of historical characters and events, and what are their limitations? How do films reflect the social, political, and cultural concerns of the times in which they were made? These and other questions were tackled at the inaugural History Film Forum, November 19-22, 2015.

Interested in learning more? Contact us at historyfilmforum@si.edu

Production Team:

National Museum of American History

Christopher Wilson, Executive Director
Sky Sitney, Production Consultant
Victoria Altman, Project Manager
Daniel Holm, Forum Coordinator
James Zimmerman, Senior Program Producer
Nigel Briggs, Graphic Design Director
Keith Madden, Theater Director
Laura Duff, Communications and Marketing
Abbey Hunter, Special Events
Wendy Shay, Archivist
Stacy Kluck, Curator
Kari Fantasia, Advancement
Dave McOwen, New Media
Erin Blasco, Social Media
Caleigh Holmes, Intern
Caine Jordan, Intern
Brianna Mayer, Intern
Brice Smither, Intern
Suprea Williams, Intern
Madeline Smit, Design Intern
Kaitlyn Taylor, Design Intern

National Endowment for the Humanities

Karen Mittleman, Director, Division of Public Programs
Michael Shirley, Deputy Director, Division of Public Programs
Jeff Hardwick, Senior Program Officer
Theola DeBose, Director of Communications

Mackenzie Shutler, Communications


Laurens Grant, filmmaker
Anne Harrington, WETA
Margaret Parsons, National Gallery of Art
Lauren Prestileo, WGBH
Thom Powers, PowersHausen
Sky Sitney, Georgetown University

This program is produced through an interagency agreement between the Smithsonian Institution and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History collects and preserves more than 3 million artifacts. The museum works to ensure that our collections, exhibitions, research, publications and educational programs all support the Museum’s basic mission—to inspire a broader understanding of our nation and its many peoples—and to make our exhibitions and programs as accessible as possible to all visitors.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research, and dynamic public outreach, we explore the infinite richness and complexity of American history. We help people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. 

National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating its 50th anniversary as an independent federal agency in 2015, National Endowment for the Humanities brings the best in humanities research, public programs, education, and preservation projects to the American people. To date, NEH has awarded $5 billion in grants to build the nation’s cultural capital — at museums, libraries, colleges and universities, archives, and historical societies—and advance our understanding and appreciation of history, literature, philosophy, and language. Learn more at neh.gov