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History Film Forum

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History films are so important because it gives you a creative lens . . . to look at our society. Film and history is a great gateway to a larger conversation.

— Laurens Grant, filmmaker, History Film Forum 2017

Welcome to the History Film Forum

Films are incredibly powerful. In his 1962 interview with French director François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock said he considered film the most powerful medium in human history. It’s no wonder, then, that history films offer an extraordinary ability to cement memorable impressions of the past upon viewers, for good or ill. Filmmakers’ frequent predilection for exploring historical subjects and the public popularity of these films led the Smithsonian Institution to launch the History Film Forum which explores history on the screen and the state of film as public history, analyzing everything from narrative film, documentaries, television shows, online video and more. After all, 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.

Film transports us to another time and place. When that time and place actually existed in our past, we take away an altered understanding of history. Sometimes the powerful images and emotions at work in film offer new understanding of history, other times the power of the medium works to reinforce or create myths.

Because film is so elemental to the way the public understands and experiences history, we are pleased that we will continue to explore film as a tool for interpreting and learning history in 2021 online History Film Forum program series.

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

Every program I attended was informative, educational, and entertaining. It was wonderful to be in a space where people truly understood the natural intersections between history, film, storytelling, and social change.

— Leah Michaels, Forum attendee

About the History Film Forum

The History Film Forum is the premier film festival focused on history. Begun in 2015, 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.

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

This program is produced through a partnership between the National Museum of American History and Smithsonian Associates with the support of Dan Manatt and Democracy Films.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Empowering people to create a just and compassionate future by exploring, preserving, and sharing the complexity of our past.

More than ever before, the National Museum of American History shines new light on the transformative power of American history. Our collections, exhibitions, research, publications, and educational programs all support the museum’s basic mission—to use the infinite richness of American history to help people make sense of the present and shape a more humane future—and to make our exhibitions and programs as accessible as possible and engaging to all visitors.

Smithsonian Associates

the largest museum-based education program in the world—produces vibrant educational and cultural programming that offer unparalleled access to the Smithsonian's world of knowledge. Smithsonian Associates Streaming now allows you to enjoy our high-quality, engaging and varied programs from the comfort of your home.

I think that what a filmmaker aspires to do is capture the truth of the era . . . The first thing that I think you do is not try to jam history into a paradigm . . . you stay open to the truth of it is as much as you can. You try to learn as much as you can about the history.

— Gary Ross, The Free State of Jones, History Film Forum 2015