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HISTORY

The documentary begins by asking, “What is liberty?” After brief responses from well-known writers and politicians, including Jerzy Kosiński, Milos Foreman, David McCullough, Barbara Jordan, Mario Cuomo, and James Baldwin, the film is divided into two sections: “The Idea” and, “The Promise.” Both topics are addressed theoretically as well as technically, with “The Idea” covering concepts of democracy and the construction of the Statue of Liberty, and “The Promise” illustrating the hopes of immigrants as their ships pass by the monument to reach Ellis Island. “The Promise” is also described by African Americans, who reflect upon their ancestors’ lack of freedom. Interviewees note that racism and socio-economic factors prevent the fulfillment of a pledge in the U.S. Declaration of Independence: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” All agree freedom should not be taken for granted.
       As shown in the documentary’s live-action footage, the statue was being renovated during production, and scaffolding surrounded the entire figure. On 5 Jul 1983, a NYT article announced that scaffolding construction would soon be underway, implying that the film began sometime after that date. The print viewed for this record also includes images of First Lady Nancy Reagan officially opening the statue on 5 Jul 1986. However, the documentary aired on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on 28 Oct 1985 and was screened theatrically later that year to qualify for Academy Award consideration. The Statue of Liberty was nominated for an Academy Award in the category Documentary (Feature). Since the film opened in theaters on 1 Mar 1986, the Nancy Reagan footage must have been added at ... More Less

The documentary begins by asking, “What is liberty?” After brief responses from well-known writers and politicians, including Jerzy Kosiński, Milos Foreman, David McCullough, Barbara Jordan, Mario Cuomo, and James Baldwin, the film is divided into two sections: “The Idea” and, “The Promise.” Both topics are addressed theoretically as well as technically, with “The Idea” covering concepts of democracy and the construction of the Statue of Liberty, and “The Promise” illustrating the hopes of immigrants as their ships pass by the monument to reach Ellis Island. “The Promise” is also described by African Americans, who reflect upon their ancestors’ lack of freedom. Interviewees note that racism and socio-economic factors prevent the fulfillment of a pledge in the U.S. Declaration of Independence: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” All agree freedom should not be taken for granted.
       As shown in the documentary’s live-action footage, the statue was being renovated during production, and scaffolding surrounded the entire figure. On 5 Jul 1983, a NYT article announced that scaffolding construction would soon be underway, implying that the film began sometime after that date. The print viewed for this record also includes images of First Lady Nancy Reagan officially opening the statue on 5 Jul 1986. However, the documentary aired on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on 28 Oct 1985 and was screened theatrically later that year to qualify for Academy Award consideration. The Statue of Liberty was nominated for an Academy Award in the category Documentary (Feature). Since the film opened in theaters on 1 Mar 1986, the Nancy Reagan footage must have been added at a later date.
       The Statue of Liberty was awarded the Council on International Nontheatrical Events (CINE) Golden Eagle in Oct 1985.
       Portions of end credits on the print viewed for this record may have been added during the 2002 re-mastering. They acknowledge using clips from the following films: "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, courtesy of Columbia Pictures; Anything Can Happen, courtesy of Paramount Pictures; Planet of the Apes, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.”
       End credit also state: “Contemporary artwork courtesy of: A&M Records, Michael Rock, Jacques Faizant, Folon, Pierre Etaix, Gotlib, Bob Gruen/Star File Photo, American Postcard Co., Jean LaGarrigue, Andy Warhol/Marx-Berlin.” The following people and institutions are credited for providing “archival material”: “American Heritage; Musee Bartholdi, Colmar; John E. Allen; City of Colmar, France; Statue of Liberty Nat’l Mon; C.N.A.M., Paris; N.Y. Historical; Miege et Buhler; Union League Club; Comets; Amer. Inst. of Architects; Louvre; National Archives; Musee Carnavalet; CBS News; Musee Blerancourt; Sherman Grinberg; Bibliotheque Forney; Library of Congress.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Los Angeles Times
1 Mar 1986
p. 4.
New York Times
5 Jul 1983.
---
Variety
12 Mar 1986
p. 14.
Wilson Library Bulletin
Jun 1986
pp. 70-71.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Florentine Films production
A film by Ken Burns
Produced in cooperation with American Heritage Publishing Company
and the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation
A production of Florentine Films and WNET
Funded entirely by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Prod mgr
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Addl writing
Addl writing
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cine
Addl cine
Asst cam
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
2d asst ed
Apprentice ed
Conformity
MUSIC
Addl mus prod by
Asst mus dir
Rec eng
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
SOUND
Sd mix
Narration
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opticals
PRODUCTION MISC
Historical consultant, Author of "Statue de la Lib
Historical consultant, Author of "Statue de la Lib
Prod assoc
Prod asst
Prod asst
Exec prod for WNET
Project development
Exec in charge of prod
Project dir
President & CEO
Researcher
Loc mgr
Helicopter pilot
STAND INS
Voice by
Voice by
Voice by
Voice by
Voice by
Voice by
Voice by
Voice by
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
Opening & closing title music: Paul Simon, "American Tune," courtesy Paul Simon, Columbia Records
The Beatles, "Birthday," courtesy EMI Records
Stephen Lemberg, "The Lady In The Harbor," Phoebe Snow & the All City Choir, courtesy Vashti Music.
DETAILS
Release Date:
1 March 1986
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 1 March 1986
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
1:1.33
Prints
16mm
Duration(in mins):
60
Length(in feet):
2200
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Interviews with historians, writers, filmmakers, politicians, and immigrants are intercut with archival newsreels, still photographs, comics, and live action footage to illustrate the construction of the Statue of Liberty, and the significance of freedom worldwide. In 1865, Édouard René Lefèbvre de Laboulaye, a lawyer and chairman of the French Anti-Slavery Society, suggested the construction of a monument to be gifted to America for its 1876 centennial celebration. At the time of Laboulaye’s proposition, France was still reeling from Napoleon Bonaparte’s dictatorship, and people generally believed the democratic ideals of the French Revolution had been forsaken. Laboulaye thought America succeeded at democracy where France had failed, and hoped the project would spark new efforts to ensure liberty in France. He also believed that a French statue of mass proportions at the gateway to America would put his country’s footprint in the landscape of “democracy.” To gain support for the project, Laboulaye established the Franco-American Union, and sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, also a staunch abolitionist, responded to the call for a monument. Bartholdi’s early drawings for the statue were derived from his designs for “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia,” a female, torch-bearing “lighthouse” that he wished to mount in Egypt to honor the 1869 completion of the Suez Canal. The project never came to fruition. In 1871, Bartholdi visited the “New World” and identified Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor as the gateway to America. He planned to have “La Liberté éclairant le monde” (“Liberty Enlightening the World”), later known as the “Statue of Liberty,” to be erected at this site. Returning to ... +


Interviews with historians, writers, filmmakers, politicians, and immigrants are intercut with archival newsreels, still photographs, comics, and live action footage to illustrate the construction of the Statue of Liberty, and the significance of freedom worldwide. In 1865, Édouard René Lefèbvre de Laboulaye, a lawyer and chairman of the French Anti-Slavery Society, suggested the construction of a monument to be gifted to America for its 1876 centennial celebration. At the time of Laboulaye’s proposition, France was still reeling from Napoleon Bonaparte’s dictatorship, and people generally believed the democratic ideals of the French Revolution had been forsaken. Laboulaye thought America succeeded at democracy where France had failed, and hoped the project would spark new efforts to ensure liberty in France. He also believed that a French statue of mass proportions at the gateway to America would put his country’s footprint in the landscape of “democracy.” To gain support for the project, Laboulaye established the Franco-American Union, and sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, also a staunch abolitionist, responded to the call for a monument. Bartholdi’s early drawings for the statue were derived from his designs for “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia,” a female, torch-bearing “lighthouse” that he wished to mount in Egypt to honor the 1869 completion of the Suez Canal. The project never came to fruition. In 1871, Bartholdi visited the “New World” and identified Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor as the gateway to America. He planned to have “La Liberté éclairant le monde” (“Liberty Enlightening the World”), later known as the “Statue of Liberty,” to be erected at this site. Returning to Paris, Bartholdi created models that were said to have “the face of his mother and the body of his mistress.” He was also inspired by Freemason iconography, and became a member of the organization during construction. When a full-sized model was complete, a wooden “honeycomb” mold was built to replicate the form, and copper plates were hammered into place. The work was financed by Laboulaye’s Franco-American Union with 600,000 francs donated by French commoners. Still, the structure was not engineered to stand upright. Builder Gustave Eiffel innovated an iron skeleton, supported by a center pylon, that could accommodate movement, expansion, and contraction. Meanwhile, Americans failed to make good on their promise to build the statue pedestal. The delay was attributed to a general mistrust of France, and suspicion of ulterior motives. Critics opposed the symbolism of femininity, and were troubled by a perceived homage to a “pagan goddess.” Despite American antagonism, the Statue of Liberty was disassembled and packed into 210 crates which set sail from Paris on 21 May 1885 aboard the Isère. After nearly capsizing on its way to New York City, the monument arrived unceremoniously, as construction on architect Richard Morris Hunt’s pedestal remained at a standstill. While the statue lingered in boxes for another year, publisher Joseph Pulitzer precipitated an outpouring of public support by printing the name and testimonial of every contributor to the pedestal fund, no matter how much money he or she donated. Gifts generally ranged well under $1, but the effort secured at least $100,000 to finance the pedestal’s completion. Twenty-one years after Édouard René Lefèbvre de Laboulaye conceived the project, and ten years after the American centennial, the Statue of Liberty was finally dedicated on 28 October 1886. At 305 feet, it was the tallest structure in America at that time. Despite the populist, democratic ideals embodied by the statue, the ceremony included only two women, and the speeches made no mention of the immigrants who were meant to see the monument upon their arrival to America. Over time, the symbol of liberty was both revered and commercialized. However, the promise of “freedom” remained a subject of contention for African Americans and migrants who were not always included in the promise of the “American Dream.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.