Orson Welles narrates “Freedom River”: An uplifting modern day parable about mankind getting along together

By on December 19, 2015

Freedom River — described as an “uplifting modern day parable about mankind getting along together” — is a short animated film, dating back to 1971 and narrated by Orson Welles. Its message is very timely, given the political climate in America, as pride, arrogance, and resistance to change still seems to dominate our culture.

The short film — with animation directed by Sam Weiss, from a screenplay by Joseph Cavella and Warren H. Schmidt — concerns the role of immigration, race, and wealth in America, and how the erosion of our freedoms can happen so gradually that we’ll eventually get to the point that we’ve lost our freedoms.

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Here’s more from Open Culture:

Directed by Sam Weiss, Freedom River tells the story of decline – of a once great nation lapsing into ugliness. Despite the myths we like to tell ourselves here in America, the ugliness has always been there. Xenophobia, greed, racism (you could add a few more traits to the list) are nothing new. They just tend to surface more during hard times, or when demagogues make it permissible, which is precisely what we’re seeing right now. Fortunately, Orson Welles’s narration leaves us with room to hope, with room to believe that wisdom will prevail and that people will find better options than what the provocateurs have to offer.

From Welles’s narration: “They knew that the power of freedom would renew their hope and replenish their energy. They did not know that too much pride could blind them. They did not know that too much pride could make them arrogant. They barred from it people that looked unfamiliar or talked differently in the false belief that strangers were not deserving. When new ideas were proposed, people ridiculed them. When some arose and took more than their share, the people did not stop them, but instead resolved to do the same. Instead of helping those that were ill and weak. They despised them and chastised them for their idleness. And even as the river grew weak and muddy, glib leaders said it was strong and clear. The people became confused. They did not know what to do.”

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Writer Joseph Cavella wrote the following in 2008:

“Freedom River is getting more attention now than it did in 1971 when I wrote the screenplay. Here’s the genesis of the film: For several years, Bosustow Productions, a small studio for which I wrote several films, had asked Orson Welles, then living in Paris, to narrate one of their films. He never responded. When I finished the Freedom River script, we sent it to him together with a portable reel to reel tape recorder and a sizable check and crossed our fingers. He was either desperate for money or (I would rather believe) something in it touched him because two weeks later we got the reel back with the narration word for word and we were on our way.”

Weiss — who taught animation at USC and UCLA — also worked on the 1969 Hot Wheels animated series, and the 1980s GI Joe animated series.

(h/t Open Culture)

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.