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By Amanda Dugan
Before celebrities like Bono, George Clooney, and Angelina Jolie were serving as UN Ambassadors, informing the public of the troubles around the world, there were the Hubleys, Dizzy Gillespie, and the World Policy Institute. In 1964 and then again in 1973, the World Policy Institute brought together the Oscar award-winning directors and the Grammy award-winning musicians to educate the world through art. The products of these collaborations were the world-renowned short films, “The Hat” and “Voyage to Next.”
With both films, the Institute introduced world order values to the public in an easily accessible format. Although the dialogues (which were improvised by the actors) touched on some of the philosophical aspects of conflict and human responsibility, they made sure to keep their message clear: We need to change the system.
A world filled with arms, pollution, and the potential for conflict is simply unsustainable. The films warn that humans will run out of resources and, ultimately, out of time. But they have a choice—this was the hope of the films—to reject the current system and work for change. And, even further, they have the responsibility to do so—not just for themselves, but also for future generations—this was central to both films.
Although the 1964 film, “The Hat,” was primarily concerned with the importance of disarmament and the futility of conflict—the two guards found themselves asking, “What is our place in this system?” As the soldier voiced by Dizzy Gillespie, expressed: “Don’t we have our own minds? Can’t we make our own choices?”
The dilemma for the two soldiers, voiced by Dizzy Gillespie and Dudley Moore, centers around a lost hat. As the two guards pace alongside each other, divided only by an imaginary line, Gillespie’s hat falls across the border. When he bends to retrieve it from its position, just over the line, he finds himself staring down the barrel of a gun. “This is my hat that I’m asking you to give me,” Gillespie’s character explains. “Yes, but it’s on my side,” Moore’s guard responds. As the two men continue to debate ownership of the hat, the absurdity of the current system becomes increasingly apparent. Checking his guide, the one guard explains that he can’t just return the hat because of protocol—he shouldn’t even be talking at the line. Watching animals cross back and forth over the line, Gillespie’s character finally breaks: “Why does it have to be this way? Why does it have to be dog eat dog?” Because, as Moore explains simply, “It’s always been that way.”
It’s at this point, that the two soldiers realize the senselessness of the situation. Over a meal, they wonder how they got to the point where guns are drawn over a lost hat. And, like the Institute’s founders, Harry Hollins and Douglas Dillon, the guards wonder: What can a few private citizens do? As they imagine a world without arms, they realize that it’s easier said than done. “Who’s going to tell a country to stop doing something?” Moore asks, when there’s no incentive to disarm, nor is there any way to maintain it. Not yet convinced, Moore wonders how they will get everyone to agree to such an authority. But, as Gillespie explains, “Everyone should give up just a little bit to survive … The whole world has a stake in it.”
Finally, the two men conclude that they need an international authority—a police force and a legal system. But as they walk away, each on their own side of the line, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done. And, a few years later, with “Voyage to Next,” the Institute made the point that time was running out.
Recalling the events that lead to the creation short film, John Hubley explained, the Institute approached him and his wife with the question: “What kind of visual idea can you come up with that would represent the condition of nation-states today?” Describing the international system as, “a bunch of independent nations that are all on their own. They interact and interrelate but there’s no legal system that binds them all,” the Institute presented their idea to the Hubleys. With this as their prompt, the Hubleys designed a world in which nations float down a stream as individual boxes, occasionally crashing into each other, as Mother Earth and Father Time keep a watchful eye.
With Maureen Stapleton and Dizzy Gillespie as Mother Earth and Father Time, the characters wonder whether or not the human race will survive. As the humans float by, Mother Earth explains the nature of their relationships—they share everything, from their food, their energy, and their thoughts. “But what if somebody withholds?” Father Time wonders, “Do they have some sort of tribunal?” Optimistically, Mother Earth explains that there is no tribunal; rather, each day is a choice of what to do, and she believes the humans will make the right choices.
But as they watch the humans destroy the environment and stock up on arms, it’s revealed that Father Time already knows what will happen. Humans have already stopped sharing; they have built these boxes—nationalistic boxes—to protect themselves. From what? Father Time wonders, perhaps from themselves? As Father Time and Mother Earth implore each other to help the humans before they destroy everything, they realize that there is nothing they can do—humans have to change their ways and need to take responsibility for their own actions, if they expect to survive. Yet, even as they realize the potential for humans to create a better world the actors worried that they won’t change in time.
Although these were complicated issues, the Institute realized that they came down to simple concerns and solutions, which affected all nations and citizens. And, continuing the tradition that the Institute was founded upon, these films hoped to educate the public in a way that helped them understand the gravity of the situation, and preparing them to participate in the policy discussions that would affect their lives. Believing that policy should be accessible to the public, the Institute continued to push policy into the mainstream through art, music, and media as they expanded their programs throughout the 1970s.
"Voyage to Next," (1974)
The next post in our series will explore the Institute's disarmament program and its influential report, "World Military and Social Expenditures."
Amanda Dugan is a Research Consultant for the World Policy Institute.
[Image via Aceandson.com]