Julien Bryan (1899-1974) was a documentary filmmaker who filmed and photographed the everyday life and culture of individuals and communities in a variety of countries around the globe. He never received formal training as a photographer, but learned during the course of his many travels. Bryan hailed from Titusville, PA, was a Princeton graduate, and finished the Union Theological Seminary (though he was never ordained). From an early age he exhibited an interest in world travel and in 1917, as an 18 year-old, he volunteered to serve in the ambulance corps in France, ferrying the wounded soldiers from the battlefield of Verdun to hospitals. During his college years Bryan started making extended trips abroad, which he documented in photographs. He funded his foreign travels by giving public slide lectures in the U.S. about the places he visited. By 1930, when he made his first trip to the Soviet Union, Bryan was equipped with a 35mm motion picture camera as well as his still cameras. In 1937 he made an extended trip to Nazi Germany, during which he took hundreds of pictures of Nazi leaders, party rallies, daily life on the streets, and anti-Jewish propaganda. This material was used in numerous film and slide lectures he delivered at concert halls (including Carnegie Hall in New York) and university auditoriums around the country. Bryan's film footage of Nazi Germany was incorporated in two "March of Time" films in the late 1930s, and was apparently screened at the White House. In the first week of September 1939, Bryan, who had been filming in Europe that summer, found himself on the way to Warsaw just as all foreign reporters and diplomats, as well as Polish government officials, were fleeing the capital in the wake of the German invasion. By the time he realized that the city was about to face a devastating siege, it was too late for him to get out. He therefore decided to take advantage of his situation as the only foreign photographer in the city and record the events with his still and motion picture cameras. In his efforts, Bryan received support from Stefan Starzynski, the mayor of Warsaw, who provided him with a car, guide, interpreter, and a permit to photograph whatever he liked. For two weeks, from September 7 until September 21, Bryan stayed in Warsaw filming and photographing the German bombardment and its impact on the Polish citizenry. He was able to leave during a brief truce that was negotiated to allow citizens of neutral countries to evacuate. Bryan was able to bring his films out, though for a time he got separated from his suitcase of film and thought they were lost. From Warsaw, he was taken to Koenigsberg. While waiting for German officials to decide his fate he hid his films in the chemical container of a gas mask that a fellow American was taking home as a souvenir. Bryan got them back six weeks later in New York. After his return to the U.S. via Sweden and Norway, Bryan published a book on the German Blitzkrieg in Poland, entitled "The Siege." At this time, Bryan was asked by the Office of War Information to make films (23 in all) about the life and culture of various Latin American countries, in an attempt to prevent the spread to the New World of the type of ethnic and national hatred that had overcome Europe. Bryan had no formal sponsorship or source of funding until he set up the International Film Foundation in 1945. For the remainder of his career he made short documentary films for the school market. His son, Sam Bryan, is a historian and schoolteacher who was fully involved in the film production process as well as in the planning and execution of the trips. During the 1980s, the foundation ceased to be economically viable and Sam Bryan closed down most of its operations.
In 2003 Sam Bryan donated both his father's still and motion picture footage of wartime Europe to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.