Jimmy Carter photo

American Film Institute Remarks at a Reception on the Occasion of the loth Anniversary of the Institute.

November 17, 1977

Rosalynn and I are very deeply grateful and honored to have a chance to welcome to the White House a group of people who have contributed so much to our Nation, what it is, what it stands for, and the image of it around the world.

James Agee said that the most tremendous possibility for a popular art form was the motion pictures, since the time of Shakespeare. That was a number of years ago. He's one of my favorite authors, and I think his predictions are increasingly coming true.

The movies have touched all our lives--mine as a farmboy. It gave me a vision of the outside world. I'm sure the first time I saw the White House was in the back seat of the movie theater. [Laughter] And we also have had a chance to tie our highly diverse American society together. Those who were rich could learn what poverty was, and those who were poor could see the vision of a better life. Those of us who were happy could learn about sorrow, and those who were stricken with hunger or sorrow could learn about happiness.

The motion pictures have, in effect, painted the history of our country--I don't think too distorted in their conglomerate form--and one of the things the Institute is trying to do is to take 14,000 films that are in the Library of Congress and restore them and preserve them for the future. I'm sure the motion pictures don't distort history any more than the day-by-day life of our Nation is distorted in the reporting of it. [Laughter]

We've seen also evolve over a number of years the fact that for many hundreds of millions of people in the world America is the movies. That's all they know about us. And the image that we've projected to them overseas, in its total form, again, is probably a quite accurate picture of what our Nation has been and is.

Last night was a good example of it. We had the Shah of Iran and Empress Farah with us, one of the most beautiful women in the world. I was sitting between the Shah and Empress Farah. My preference was to talk--[laughter]--well, I won't tell you what my preference is; I'll let you guess. [Laughter] Unfortunately, Empress Farah was sitting between me and Lew Wasserman.1 I was wanting to talk about oil prices, and Lew Wasserman was talking about the motion pictures, and I won't tell you what Empress Farah's preference was. [Laughter]

1 Lew R. Wasserman, president of Music Corporation of America, Inc.

But in the process, I had to talk to the Shah about oil prices. And perhaps the motion pictures last night, through Lew Wasserman's influence, helped to hold down the price of oil next year, because I talked to the Shah about that. [Laughter]

We are proud to meet all the famous people. I had a chance to put my arms around Olivia De Havilland and Lillian Gish and many others whom I've loved from a distance. And the great actors who are here tonight also have been an inspiration to many of us.

I went to a lot of movies when I was young, whenever I could. In the South, we date life either before "Gone With the Wind" and after "Gone With the Wind," as you know. [Laughter]

When "Gone With the Wind" first came out, every school in Georgia was closed, and all the students were hauled to the theaters on the school buses. And it made a great impact on our lives. I think, perhaps, we saw a different version from what was seen in the rest of the country. [Laughter] One of my favorite scenes was the burning of Schenectady, New York--[laughter]--just before Grant surrendered to Robert E. Lee. It was a great movie. It's not quite as good now as it was then.

But I think all of us realize, because I can tell from the expressions on your face, that the motion pictures have had a tremendous beneficial effect on our country. And on behalf of about 220 million Americans, tonight I would like to express my deep thanks to those who have written and produced and directed and performed and written music for this wonderful art form which is unique in being a true people's art form.

I can't express adequately what it has meant to me personally and to our Nation, and I'm truly grateful to those of you who have made these wonderful films brighten the lives of all Americans and, perhaps, almost all the people around the world.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Note: The President spoke at 6:10 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, American Film Institute Remarks at a Reception on the Occasion of the loth Anniversary of the Institute. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242837

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