On Tuesday evening, May 2, 2023, a screening of the 1922 film America's Gift to Famine-Stricken Russia took place in Hauck Auditorium at the Hoover Institution. The film documents the work of the American famine relief mission to Soviet Russia under the leadership of Herbert Hoover, a humanitarian undertaking that saved millions of lives in 1921–1923. Nearly 22 minutes long, America's Gift is a compilation of scenes filmed by cameraman Floyd Traynham, who spent January through May 1922 in Soviet Russia photographing the famine and the relief activities. Most of the sequences in the film had been distributed by newsreel companies to more than 1800 movie theaters across the United States in the spring of 1922.
The film screening was preceded by the commentary of Hoover research fellow Bertrand Patenaude, who explained that America's Gift was compiled by staff in the New York office of the American Relief Administration (ARA) after the decision to continue the relief mission in Soviet Russia for a second year. The film was screened for select gatherings, mostly members of the press and representatives of the ARA's affiliated organizations, such as the Quakers and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, as a way to maintain support for the relief mission.
The focus of the film, Patenaude noted, is not the horrors of famine but rather the remedy of American food and medicine. Scenes include the feeding of children at a wintry outdoor field kitchen in the Volga city of Tsaritsyn (later Stalingrad, today Volgograd), the transportation of American corn and other supplies by horse and camel sled caravans across the frozen Volga River, and the distribution of American corn in the village Vasilievka, where the residents lined up to receive their carefully weighed individual allocations of corn.
The film screening was accompanied by the live performance of a string quartet of Stanford students featuring works by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák and three Russian composers: Pyotor Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Igor Stravinsky. The music was selected and arranged by Jonathan Pak ('24) and Jenny Xiong ('24). Pak, a cellist, performed on stage with violinist Audrey Lin ('25), violist Bradley Moon ('25), and violinist Roger Xia ('24).
To watch a recording of the event, click here.
To learn more about the cinematographer of the film, Floyd Traynham, explore the digital story "A True Picture of Famine and Revival: Floyd Traynham, ARA Cameraman." It is part of the online exhibition Bread + Medicine: Saving Lives in a Time of Famine.