First dinner, now a movie? The White House stopped hosting film screenings last November, according to International Business Times, but Tuesday night President Barack Obama hosted a showing of The Monuments Men shortly after the U.S. hosted French President François Hollande for a state dinner in his honor. In attendance at the film showing were the film’s stars, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and star/director George Clooney. Grant Heslov was also in attendance, as was a member of the group the film was based on — Harry Ettlinger — and the author of the book that inspired the movie, Robert Edsel.
Other big names in government also attended, such as Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, David Wade, Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of the Army Bill McHugh, the director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Sara Bloomfield, and a number of others — according to International Business Times. It’s been suggested that the reason for the White House screening could be related to Clooney’s work during the President’s election campaign, in which he pulled in $15 million worth of fundraising.
Damon, on the other hand, has publicly conveyed his “disappointment” with Obama in the past few years, a turnaround from his history as an Obama supporter. Last year, he was qouted as saying that Obama “broke up with him” while discussing worries regarding the drone operations and the NSA’s documents released by Edward Snowden — according to USA Today. Later, Obama hit back, joking at a dinner in 2011 that, “Matt Damon said he was disappointed in my performance. Well, Matt, I just saw The Adjustment Bureau, so right back atcha, buddy!”
The movie itself looks at a World War II military detachment of eight created by Franklin Roosevelt that was responsible for going after artwork that the Nazis had taken, and giving the works back to their original owners, as well as protecting artworks and architecture worth preserving in a war-zone. The effort required both military and art experts, putting them through basic training. Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin also starred in the film.
Ettinger, the only remaining real-life-member of the division who is healthy enough for public appearances spoke with The Jewish Daily Forward to discuss his work with the group. “What we had done was something that every American should be proud of. Instead of taking things, we gave them back,” said Ettlinger.
Wesley Fisher, director of research at the restitution organization Claims Conference, said that the Monuments Men “might have been heroes, but they made mistakes.” He explained that a lot of the artwork they recovered had to be given back to countries’ governments, rather than specific people due to the size of their group, and being stretched too thin. He also noted that the division could only repatriate artworks in areas that were officially considered American-occupied. “They were working under the specific political conditions of their time,” said Fisher, who has said that he hopes the film will help to bring attention to these important issues.