The Why We Fight series depicts the Nazi propaganda machine.

A propaganda film is a film that involves some form of propaganda. Propaganda films spread and promote certain ideas that are usually religious, political, or cultural in nature. A propaganda film is made with the intent that the viewer will adopt the position promoted by the propagator and eventually take action towards making those ideas widely accepted.[1] Propaganda films are popular mediums of propaganda due to their ability to easily reach a large audience in a short amount of time. They are also able to come in a variety of film types such as documentary, non-fiction, and newsreel, making it even easier to provide subjective content that may be deliberately misleading.[1][2]

Propaganda is the ability "to produce and spread fertile messages that, once sown, will germinate in large human cultures".[3] However, in the 20th century, a "new" propaganda emerged, which revolved around political organizations and their need to communicate messages that would "sway relevant groups of people in order to accommodate their agendas".[4] First developed by the Lumiere brothers in 1896, film provided a unique means of accessing large audiences at once. Film was the first universal mass medium in that it could simultaneously influence viewers as individuals and members of a crowd, which led to it quickly becoming a tool for governments and non-state organizations to project a desired ideological message.[5] As Nancy Snow stated in her book, Information War: American Propaganda, Free Speech and Opinion Control Since 9-11, propaganda "begins where critical thinking ends."[6]

Tools used in propaganda film

Film is a unique medium that reproduces images, movement, and sound in a lifelike manner as it fuses meaning with evolvement as time passes in the story depicted. Unlike many other art forms, film produces a sense of immediacy.[7] Film's ability to create the illusion of life and reality, allows for it be used as a medium to present alternative ideas or realities making it easy for the viewer to perceive this as an accurate depiction of life.

Some film academics have noted film's great illusory abilities. Dziga Vertov claimed in his 1924 manifesto, "The Birth of Kino-Eye" that "the cinema-eye is cinema-truth".[8] To paraphrase Hilmar Hoffmann, this means that in film, only what the camera 'sees' exists, and the viewer, lacking alternative perspectives, conventionally takes the image for reality.


Making the viewer sympathize with the characters that align with the agenda or message the filmmaker portray is a common rhetorical tool used in propaganda film. Propaganda films exhibit this by having reoccurring themes good vs. evil. The viewer is meant to feel sympathy towards the "good side" while loathing in the "evil side". Prominent Nazi film maker Joseph Goebbels used this tactic to invoke deep emotions into the audience. Goebbels stressed that while making films full of nationalistic symbols can energize a population, nothing will work better to mobilize a population towards the Nazi cause like "intensifying life".[9]

The Kuleshov Effect

After the 1917 October Revolution the newly formed Bolshevik government and its leader Vladimir Lenin placed an emphasis on the need for film as a propaganda tool. Lenin viewed propaganda merely as a way to educate the masses as opposed to a way to evoke emotion and rally the masses towards a political cause.[10] Film became the preferred medium of propaganda in the newly formed Russian Soviet Republic due to a large portion of the peasant population being illiterate.[11] The Kuleshov Effect was first used in 1919 in the film The Exposure of the Relics of Sergius of Radonezh by juxtaposing images of the exhumed coffin and body of Sergius of Radonezh, a prominent Russian saint, and the reaction from the watching audience. The images of the crowd are made up of mostly female faces, whose expressions can be interpreted ambiguously. The idea behind juxtaposing these images was to subvert the audience's assumption that the crowd would show emotions of being sad or upset. Instead the crowd could be interpreted to be expressing emotions of boredom, fear, dismay, and a myriad amount of other emotions.[12] There is nothing to prove to the audience that the images of the audience and the exhumed body were captured in the same moment or place (it is now believed the images of the crowd were filmed outdoors while the images showing the skeletal remains were captured indoors). This is what blurs the line of truth making the Kuleshov Effect an effective tool of propaganda.[12]

See also


  1. ^ a b Kuhn, Annette; Westwell, Guy (20 December 2012), "propaganda", A Dictionary of Film Studies, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acref/9780199587261.001.0001, ISBN 978-0-19-958726-1, retrieved 21 May 2020
  2. ^ Bennett, Todd. "The celluloid war: state and studio in Anglo-American propaganda film-making, 1939-1941." The International History Review 24.1 (March 2002): 64(34).
  3. ^ Combs, James. Film Propaganda and American Politics. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994. p. 35
  4. ^ Combs, James. Film Propaganda and American Politics. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994. p. 32
  5. ^ Taylor, Richard. Film Propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. London: Croom Helm Ltd, 1979. 30-31
  6. ^ Snow, Nancy (2003). Information War: American Propaganda, Free Speech and Opinion Control Since 9-11. New York: Seven Stories Press. pp. 22. ISBN 978-1-58322-557-8.
  7. ^ Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  8. ^ Resina, Joan (Winter 1998). "Historical discourse and the propaganda film: Reporting in Barcelona". New Literary History. 29 (1). Baltimore: 67–84. doi:10.1353/nlh.1998.0010. ProQuest 221441317.
  9. ^ Hake, Sabine (1998). "Review of The Triumph of Propaganda: Film and National Socialism 1933-1945; The Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its Afterlife; Cinema in Democratizing Germany: Reconstructing National Identity after Hitler; German Cinema: Texts in Contexts; Perspectives on German Cinema". Monatshefte. 90 (1): 89–96. ISSN 0026-9271. JSTOR 30159611.
  10. ^ HOFFMANN, DAVID L. (2011). Cultivating the Masses: Modern State Practices and Soviet Socialism, 1914–1939 (1 ed.). Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-4629-0. JSTOR 10.7591/j.ctt7zfp9.
  11. ^ Behrent, Megan. "Education, literacy, and the Russian Revolution | International Socialist Review". Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  12. ^ a b MacKay, John (13 December 2013). Auerbach, Jonathan; Castronovo, Russ (eds.). "Built on a Lie". The Oxford Handbook of Propaganda Studies. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199764419.001.0001. ISBN 9780199764419. Retrieved 7 May 2020.