Undoubtedly, films is a very strong communication tool, especially for the masses. The communication functions that the news-papers, books or other media cannot achieve, is achieved by films. Individuals, organizations, political groups/parties and even nations, have been using this medium either to gain profits by satisfying the identity needs of the viewer, or to publicize their own thoughts and activities.
This essay concentrates on the use of films as a medium to attain political gains. Ever since the medium of films was invented, many political parties have utilized this as a tool to publicize themselves, their ideologies, gain support of the viewers and put across their message. This was done either through pure documentary films, or feature films, based on the political theme. This entire modus operandi of gaining publicity through films for political motives, is known as ‘film propaganda’.
“ A propaganda film is a film, often a documentary, produced for the express purpose of propaganda: convincing the viewer of a certain political point. However, the propaganda film is not limited to non-fiction films. Many of the war films produced in USA in early 1940s, were designed to create a consensus at the expense of ‘the enemy’.
In fact one of the concepts of the genre that developed, was that of a cross-section of the United States which comes together as a crack unit for the good of the country. Arguably one of the first propaganda film was the birth of a nation…” (propaganda film)
The first propaganda film
The Birth of a Nation was perhaps the first propaganda film. It dealt with the superiority of the white race. It was directed by D. W. Griffith, and released on 8 February 1915. At the time of release its name was the clansman but later changed to The birth of a nation prior to its release on the east coast. The film depicts pre-civil war America, introducing two juxtaposed families: the northern Stonemans and the Southern Camerons. The film was controversial due to contradictory beliefs on the rise of Ku klux clan, to restore order in the southern states after the war. The film was so Influential that it succeeded in changing the public opinion towards the south, and strengthened the Ku Klux clan in the north. President Wilson after seeing the film opined that, “ it is like writing history with lightening. And my only regret is that its all terribly true”.( the birth of a nation )
Major centers for film propaganda
In Russia it was used it was used to publicize the theory of communism, in China to publicize the Mao-tse-Tung theory, in Germany to spread the fascism of Nazis, and the USA used it to counter the Nazi fascism. A striking highlight of film propaganda is that in each country it was at its peak during a specific era. For example the film propaganda was at its peak in Germany during the Nazi regime. Barring exceptions, in no country was this tool used continuously for many decades.
Film propaganda, has mostly been restricted to a particular country only. A noteworthy exception is the Unites States, which used film propaganda not only in its own land, but tried this method of publicity on the land of its opponent, Russia, also. This fact is not being given due weight age by film historians. During the first world war, the Committee of Public Information , the American propaganda organization, conducted its operations both within the country and abroad also. At that time, Germans had succeeded in raising doubts in the minds of Russians, regarding the intentions of Britain and France.
The objective was to counter the publicity of Germans, and to encourage Russians to remain at war. Another objective was to counter Bolshevik anti-American and anti-allied propaganda. ( James D Startt)
Genre in film propaganda
Recognizing the strength of films as a medium of communication, deep thoughts were put by political leaders, directors and producers on how to convince the viewer. As a part of these efforts, a genre of propaganda films also came into existence. These genre included with pure documentaries, feature films , comedy films, historic films and war films. Charlie Chaplin’s the bond, and Einstien’s Battleship Potemkin , Frank Capra’s why we fight , films like thirty seconds over Tokyo and Casablanca are examples of these genre. ( propaganda film)
Film propaganda in the Nazi regime
In 1933 Nazi party came to power in Germany, but not with a clear majority. Adolf Hitler realized the potential of films as a communication tool very well, and created a propaganda ministry, which was handled by his trustworthy colleague, Joseph Gobbels. The objectives of communication were clear :
1) To ensure that nobody in Germany could read or see anything that was hostile or damaging to the Nazi party
2) To ensure that the views of the Nazi party were put across in the most persuasive manner possible.
Since Hitler did not have the majority, it was important to tell the supporters that their choice was right and the opponents that they had no choice but to succumb to the Nazi party’s ideals. Hitler used many media to achieve this and films was one of them.(Chris Trueman)
The propaganda film making was at its peak during the Nazi regime, from 1933 to 1945, in Germany, mainly because Hitler himself took so much interest in it and was keenly involved in it. These films projecting Hitler as their only savior and the Nazi party as the only party which can make the Germans happy. It also aimed at projecting the Jews as an ‘unwanted’ human species.
It was on personal invitation of Hitler, that Leni Reifenstahl produced and directed film The Triumph of Will, after initial hesitation, and gaining a free hand from Hitler. Even Joseph Goebbels was not allowed to meddle into the production work of this film. This film, depicting the Nazi annual meeting in 1934, is even today considered to be a master specimen of propaganda films, both from communication and cinematic points of views. (triumph of will)
The Triumph of Will
This film was released in 1935 and was very soon acclaimed as one of the best- known example of propaganda film history. The central theme of the film was that Germany will return to become a great power one day and projected Hitler as the messiah who will bring glory to the nation. (Triumph of will, wiki)
In simple terms, this is a documentary film, which reveals the annual rally of the Nazi congress of 1934, at Numberg. Director Leni Reifenstahl had earlier produced a film called ‘Das Blau Lischt’ in 1932, and Hitler was impressed with it. It was on personal insistence of Hitler, that Leni had agreed to make this film, after her initial resistance to make a documentary, because she had no experience of making a documentary film and her total ignorance about the Nazi congress. On the other side Hitler was determined to get it directed by Leni, precisely because he wanted the film to be an artistic piece, which the German public will enjoy. Leni gave in, when Hitler assured that the all strong and powerful, propaganda minister, Joseph Goebells will not meddle into the making of this film. “ He wanted a film showing the congress through a non-expert eye, selecting just what was artistically satisfying, in terms of spectacle, I suppose you might say. He wanted a film which would move, appeal to, impress an audience which was not necessarily interested in politics’, recalls Leni.(Origin, Triumph of will)
The film shows the proceedings of the 4 days of the Nazi congress rally at Numberg. It opens with a visual of Hitlers plane descending on Numberg, through the clouds, with the background commentary, which says, “ On September 5,1934, 20 years after the outbreak of world war…..16 years after the beginning of our suffering …..19 months after the beginning of German renaissance…Adolf Hitler flew again to Numberg, to review the column of his faithful followers….”
The proceedings of the 4 days of the Nazi congress rally of 1934, which began with Hitler arriving at Numberg and being ceremonially welcomed by his supporters, are vividly documented in this film. The 4th day, presents the climax of the film. Hitler, flanked by Hrinrich Himmler, and victor Lutze, walks through a long wide expanse of 150,000 SA and SS troops, to lay a wreath at the world war I memorial. Hitler then reviews the parading troops, where Hitler and Sutze deliver speeches… where Lutze declares SA’s loyalty to the Nazi regime and Hitler absolves SA of any crimes committed by Ernst Rohm. Hitler in his closing speech declares, “ all loyal Germans will become national socialists, only the best national socialists are party comrades’.(Plot )
Triumph o f will, also deals with three values, religion, power and unity through its spectacular elements of visuals. Shots of Reich Bishop Ludwig Muller standing with nigh ranking Nazis and the tents in open ground similar to the ones seen at Hajj, add a religious flavor. Even Hitler in his final speech compares the Nazi party to a holy order. Perhaps it was intended to project Nazism as a religion, that all Germans had to follow.
This film also reminded the Germans that they are a powerful nation, and the power of the Nazis is unquestioned. Huge gathering of men would remind Germans that they were becoming a power once again, after the world war I . Hitler’s final speech also had an implied threat, that if he could execute Rohm, the powerful commander of hundreds of thousands of troops, he could do it to anyone else, who dared to oppose the Nazi regime. This was a reminder to the might of Hitler’s power to the German people. This film has many scenes where the distinction between the Nazi party, the German nation and the German people are blurred. Hess remarks, “ Party is Hitler, and Hitler is Germany just as Germany is Hitler. Many scenes illustrate that the distinctions are forgotten, and Hitler is their undisputed leader. This strongly demonstrates the value of unity.(Themes)
Cinematically, the film has many highlights. Its production crew consisted of 172 people, which was remarkable in those days. The film displays innovative film techniques like moving cameras including one in Hitler’s personal Mercedes, and use of telephoto lens to create a distorted perspective. Aerial shooting was done from various planes and many of Hitler’s shots were taken from below the eye level angle, to make him appear heroic.(Making of the film)
Triumph of Will was premiered on March 28, 1935 at Berlin Ufa theater and was an instant success in Germany. Leni was awarded with many medals including the Grand Prix at Paris in 1937 ( response) but the film is criticized as a spectacular promotion of a system which was evil and unjust. In Germany, it is classified as a national socialist propaganda and its screening is banned under the post war laws.( Controversy)
Discovery of motion films is a landmark in the history of propaganda and publicity.
Science has given a very powerful tool of communication, in motion film. From the beginning, propaganda films are used to cultivate the minds of people. A brief study of all these propaganda films reveals that inmost of the cases, irrespective of its geographic location, the objective has been achieved and the propaganda successful.
There was indeed a time when Germans faithfully believed that Hitler was their God, and the Jews are ‘rats’ plaguing the world community!!!!!
All this was a result of a well planned and executed plan, with the use of propaganda films.
1) The propaganda film, available from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 8 Novemebr 2006, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Propaganda_films> (Retrieved on 3 December 2006)
2) James D.Startt, American film propaganda in Russia, prologue magazine, 1998 Available from : <http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1998/fal/american-film-propaganda-1.html> (Retrieved on 3 December 2006)
3). Chris Trueman, Propaganda in Nazi Germany,
Available from :
( Retrieved on 30 november 2006 )
3) Origin, Plot Themes Making of the film, Response Controversy,
All above paragraphs from: Triumph of the will, wikipedia the free encyclopedia, 29 November 2006, available at : < http://en.wikipedia.org//wiki/Triumph_of_the_Will > ( Retrieved on 30 November 2006 )