If You Love This Planet
Gov't censors pick best short

by Janine Verbinski

from Jump Cut, no. 28, April 1983, p. 64
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1983, 2005

IF YOU LOVE THIS PLANET may be the first academy award winner to be labeled political propaganda by the U.S. Justice Dept. and forced to contain this ominous statement:

“This material is prepared, edited, issued-or circulated by The National Film Board of Canada, 16th Floor, 1251 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020, which is registered with the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., under the Foreign Agents Registration Act as an agent of Canada. Dissemination reports on this film are filed with the Department of Justice where the required registration statement is available for public inspection. Registration does not indicate approval of the contents of the material by the United States Government. This act of censorship is certainly in keeping with James Watt's blundering attempt to censor the scheduled performance of the Beach Boys and various recent acts of censorship of Public Television.”

Among the ironic sidelights of the IF YOU LOVE THIS PLANET incident are: the Justice Department's labeling Canada as a "foreign agent." And they define a propaganda film as one that would

“influence a recipient or an section of the public within the United States with reference to the foreign country or a foreign political party or with reference to the foreign policies of the United States …”

Yet PLANET does not greatly differ from other anti-nuke films currently distributed in the U.S. For example, EIGHT MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT is a portrait of Dr. Helen Caldicott, national president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, whose speech protesting the hazards of nuclear warfare forms the text of DO YOU LOVE THIS PLANET? (EIGHT MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT was funded largely by the National Endowment for the Arts.)

When we consider the 17 films labeled political propaganda and subjected to the conditions accompanying this label, including an obligation on the part of the foreign agent to report the name of each theater or group showing the film, we better understand the seriousness of the incident. These films from Israel, Korea, West Germany, Canada and South Africa include titles such as Israel's PLIGHT OF SOVIET JEWRY: LET MY PEOPLE GO and a West German production promoting business opportunities in West Berlin, BERLIN MEANS BUSINESS AND MORE.

Various groups and organizations have denounced this crude government censorship. The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Variety, The EFLA Bulletin and The ACLU News have printed articles denouncing the actions of the Justice Department. The Canadian government has asked the U.S. Justice Department to rescind its actions against IF YOU LOVE THIS PLANET and two other Canadian films on acid rain. The ACLU is filing a suit to overturn the Justice Department's decision. Among the plaintiffs are the Environmental Defense Fund, the State of New York (who wants to show the film as part of its education program on acid rain), the New York Library Association, Mitchell Block, head of Direct Cinema Ltd. (the U.S. distributor of the film), the Environmental Task Force and the Biograph Theater, Washington, D.C.. Senator Kennedy has requested that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond screen the three films for member of the Senate and call Attorney General William French Smith to account for the decision.

The Hollywood industry expressed its displeasure with the government's action by awarding PLANET the Oscar. As the government intensifies its effort to keep information critical of the administration's policies from the U.S. people, media makers must also intensify our efforts to inform and educate. A wide dissemination of PLANET will add considerably to this effort.