The term propaganda can be defined as the ability to produce and spread fertile messages that, once sown, will germinate in large human cultures.” 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”. A propaganda film is a film, either a documentary-style production or a fictional screenplay, that is produced to convince the viewer of a certain political point or influence the opinions or behavior of people, often by providing deliberately misleading, propagandistic content.
The earliest known propaganda film was a series of short silent films made during the Spanish American War in 1898 created by Vitagraph Studios. One of the early fictional films to be used for propaganda was The Birth of a Nation, although it was not produced for the purposes of indoctrination. In 1918, Charlie Chaplin made, at his own expense, The Bond, a comedic propaganda film for World War I. In the years following the October Revolution of 1917, the Soviet government sponsored the Russian film industry with the purpose of making propaganda films.
During the First World War a secret film campaign was brought to the United States. In an effort to control public opinion in this important neutral country, German officials set up The American Correspondent Film Company. As a front man for this organization, photographer Albert K. Dawson was attached to the German and Austrian army. Dawson was among the most active and daring film correspondents in the Great War.
The development of Russian cinema in the 1920s by such filmmakers as Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein saw considerable progress in the use of the motion picture as a propaganda tool, yet it also served to develop the art of moviemaking. Eisenstein's films, in particular The Battleship Potemkin, are seen as masterworks of the cinema, even as they glorify Eisenstein's Communist ideals.
The 1930s and 1940s, which saw the rise of totalitarian states and the Second World War, are arguably the "Golden Age of Propaganda". During this time Leni Riefenstahl, a filmmaker working in Nazi Germany, created what is arguably the greatest propaganda movie of all time: Triumph of the Will, a film commissioned by Hitler to chronicle the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg. Despite its controversial subject, the film is still recognized today for its influential revolutionary approaches to using music and cinematography.
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