The local effort to save Dodona Manor, the Leesburg home of Gen. George C. Marshall, got a boost this week when a New York company announced plans to film a documentary about Marshall's life, including footage of Dodona Manor and other parts of Leesburg.

"We're just thrilled about this," said Diana Keesee, executive director of the George C. Marshall Home Preservation Fund, which has raised about $4 million of the $10 million it says it needs to buy and renovate the estate into a top tourist attraction.

Marshall was the architect of the European Recovery Plan, or Marshall Plan, under which the United States provided $13 billion in aid to European countries after World War II. He won the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

"Our mandate, the whole reason for setting up a memorial at Dodona Manor, is to educate the American public about Marshall's contributions in the 20th century," Keesee said. The documentary, to be funded largely by a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, "reminds people around the world about Marshall, even before the film is completed."

B. Powell Harrison, the fund's president, was more blunt: "We'll be raising money for four {more} years," he said, adding there would be plenty of time for potential contributors to see the documentary. "I think {the documentary} is great . . . because in this game {fund-raising}, in order to get the big money, people have to realize that Marshall was the great man he was."

Leesburg Mayor Robert E. Sevila said the town welcomes the attention the documentary will bring to Marshall's life and to Leesburg, where the general came to live in 1941 and remained until his death in 1959. Marshall considered Dodona Manor, a 19th-century brick Federalist mansion, his only real home.

"One of the reasons that the fund-raising effort has lagged a little bit is that people don't realize the significance of having had Gen. Marshall {in Leesburg} for so long, and that his only permanent home was here," Sevila said. "Townspeople that I've talked to are very excited and optimistic" about the documentary.

Nearly two years ago, the Leesburg Town Council voted 6 to 1 to give the Marshall fund $1.4 million in town funds. Many town officials argued that Leesburg would more than recoup the money once Marshall's home is opened as a tourist attraction. But others, particularly council member Jim Clem, who voted against the donation, said the town shouldn't be spending taxpayer dollars for the project.

The documentary will be complete early next year, according to Amy Faust, an associate producer at Great Projects Film Co. of Manhattan. It will be aired in late 1991 during prime time on more than 300 Public Broadcasting Service stations nationwide. Faust said the company works "almost exclusively" producing documentaries for PBS. Among its better-known projects were "Hollywood's Favorite Heavy," a 1986 film about the portrayal of businesspeople on prime-time television, and "The Republicans Before and After Reagan," which was aired during the 1988 presidential campaign.

Daniel Polin, director of the film project, said that Marshall's name kept coming up when the company was doing a film series on large-scale engineering projects today. "They would say we need something like a Marshall plan to make this feasible," he said.

When Polin's group went to the National Endowment for the Humanities for money for the project, the endowment jumped at it, he said. "They were very interested, very enthusiastic, because no one had yet proposed anything, and he is really a central figure {of the 20th century}."

Marshall was a five-star general and later served as U.S. secretary of state and secretary of defense under President Truman. But he is best known for devising the Marshall Plan. He is a hero in Western Europe, where several businesses have donated to the fund to save his home.

The latest European contribution was from Lufthansa German Airlines, which recently provided free travel to Germany for the film's co-producer Ken Mandel and a Great Projects film crew. While there, Mandel interviewed people who knew Marshall, including U.S. Ambassador to Germany Vernon Walters and Hermann Abs, former administrator of the Reconstruction Bank of Germany. Abs was in charge of dispensing the funds provided by the Marshall Plan.

Mandel has already visited Leesburg, where he toured Dodona Manor and interviewed Molly B. Winn, Marshall's stepdaughter and the current owner of the house. He plans to return to Leesburg in late summer or early fall for filming.

Among those expected to be interviewed then is Harrison, who recounted memories of Marshall this week. Harrison and Marshall were friends from the time Marshall moved to Leesburg until his death.

"He had a great sense of humor," Harrison said. "He liked to make jokes, tell you about crazy things that happened to him . . . fool things that you would never think of."

Asked for a specific story, Harrison laughed.

"The one I'm thinking of now, I don't think I'd want it published," he said, still chuckling. "I don't think I'd better."