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Political cinema

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Political cinema, in the narrow sense, refers to cinema products that portray events or social conditions, either current or historical, through a partisan perspective, with the intent of informing or agitating the spectator.[citation needed]

Political cinema exists in different forms, such as documentaries, short films, feature films, experimental films, and even animated cartoons.[citation needed]


In the narrow sense of the term, political cinema refers to films that do not hide their political stance. In this sense, they differ from other films not because they are political, but because of the way in which their politics is presented. As such, a film does not necessarily have to be pure propaganda to be considered 'political cinema'.[citation needed]

The broader meaning of 'political cinema' is argued to be that "all films are political;"[1][2][3][4] even films that are ostensibly 'apolitical' and escapist, merely promising 'entertainment' as an escape from everyday life, can be understood as fulfilling a political function. The authorities in Nazi Germany, for instance, knew this very well and organized a large production of deliberately escapist films.[citation needed] In other 'entertainment' films, such as westerns, the ideological bias is evident in the distortion of historical reality. A "classical" western would rarely portray black cowboys, although there were a great many of them in the American frontier. Hollywood cinema, which can be understood as the dominant industry of cinema, was often accused of misrepresenting black, female, gay, and working-class people.[citation needed] More fundamentally, not only are the contents of individual films political, but the institution of cinema itself can also be taken as political as well. A huge number of people congregate, not to act together or to talk to each other, but to sit silently, after having paid for it, to be spectators separated from each other. Guy Debord, a critic of the 'society of the spectacle', for whom "separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle," was therefore also violently opposed to cinema, even though he would make several films portraying his ideas.[citation needed]

In order to differentiate between the narrow and broad notions of 'political cinema', film scholar Ewa Mazierska suggested to divide all such films into the categories of conformist or oppositional and marked or unmarked:[5]

  • Conformist films "accept the political status quo;" while oppositional films reject it.
  • Marked political films are willing to reveal to their viewers the party/ideology "they serve"; while unmarked films prefer to hide it.

From this point of view, it is the oppositional and marked political films that the most viewers regard as 'political', as discussions about politics in film typically single out these two categories.[5]


Cinema, World War I and its aftermath[edit]

Before World War I French cinema had a big share of the world market. Hollywood used the collapse of the French production to establish its hegemony. Ever since it has dominated world film production not only economically but has transformed cinema into a means to disseminate American values.[citation needed]

In Germany the Universum Film AG, better known as UFA, was founded to counter the perceived dominance of American propaganda. During the Weimar Republic many films about Frederick II of Prussia had a conservative nationalistic agenda, as Siegfried Kracauer and other film critics noted.[citation needed]

Communists like Willi Münzenberg saw the Russian cinema as a model of political cinema. Soviet films by Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov and others combined a partisan view of the bolshevist regime with artistic innovation which also appealed to western audiences.[citation needed]

National Socialism[edit]

Leni Riefenstahl has never been able or willing to face her responsibility as a chief propagandist for National-Socialism, i.e., Nazism. Almost unlimited resources and her undeniable talent led to results, which, despite their hideous aims, still fascinate some aficionados of film. While there is much controversy around her work, it is generally accepted that Riefenstahl's main commitment was to filmmaking, rather than to the Nazi Party. Proof of this might be seen by the portrayal of Jesse Owens' victory in her film about the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Olympia (1938), and in her later work, mostly on her photographic expeditions to Africa.[citation needed]

The same is certainly not true of the violent anti-Semitic films of Fritz Hippler. Other Nazi political films made propaganda for so-called euthanasia.[citation needed]

Third Cinema[edit]

Recent films[edit]

Especially in the last decades of the 20th century, many filmmakers considered focusing on remembrance of and reflection upon major collective crimes such as the Holocaust, slavery and disasters such as the Chernobyl disaster to be their political and moral duty.[citation needed]

Globalization and related world issues[edit]

Political cinema of the 21st century seems to focus on controversial topics such as globalization, AIDS, and other health-care concerns, issues pertaining to the environment, such as world energy resources and consumption and climate change, and other complex matters pertaining to discrimination, capitalism, terrorism, war, peace, religious and related forms of intolerance, and civil and political rights, as well as other human rights.[citation needed]


The form has always been an important concern for political filmmakers. While some, like pioneering Lionel Rogosin, argued that radical films, in order to liberate the imagination of the spectator, have to break not only with the content but also with the form of Dominant cinema, the falsely reassuring clichés and stereotypes of conventional narrative film making, other directors such as Francesco Rosi, Costa Gavras, Ken Loach, Oliver Stone, Spike Lee or Lina Wertmüller preferred to work within mainstream cinema to reach a wider audience.[citation needed]

The subversive tradition dates back at least to the French avant-garde of the 1920s. Even in his more conventional films Luis Buñuel stuck to the spirit of outright revolt of L'Âge d'or. The bourgeoisie had to be expropriated and all its values destroyed, the surrealists believed. This spirit of revolt is also present in all films of Jean Vigo.[citation needed]

Selected filmography[edit]

The following is a listing of notable political films or political films made by notable directors:
Political filmography
Title Year Director(s) Country Type of film Notes
The Birth of a Nation 1915 D. W. Griffith United States Feature [6][7]
Stachka (Strike) 1925 Sergei Eisenstein Soviet Union Feature
Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin) 1925 Sergei Eisenstein Soviet Union Feature
Padenie dinastii Romanovykh (The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty) 1927 Esfir Shub Soviet Union Feature
Chelovek s kino-apparatom (Man with a Movie Camera) 1929 Dziga Vertov Soviet Union Documentary
Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform) 1931 Leontine Sagan Weimar Republic Feature
Kuhle Wampe oder Wem gehört die Welt? (To Whom Does the World Belong?) 1932 Slatan Dudow Weimar Republic Feature
Misère au Borinage (Penury in the Borinage) 1934 Joris Ivens and Henri Storck Belgium Short documentary [8]
Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will) 1935 Leni Reifenstahl Nazi Germany Propaganda [9]
Der ewige Jude. Ein Filmbeitrag zum Weltjudentum (The Eternal Jew) 1940 Fritz Hippler Nazi Germany Propaganda [10]
Strange Victory 1948 Leo Hurwitz East Germany Documentary [11]
Salt of the Earth 1954 Herbert Biberman United States Feature [12]
Ernst Thälmann – Sohn seiner Klasse (Ernst Thälmann – Son of his Class) 1954 East Germany Kurt Maetzig Feature [13]
Ernst Thälmann – Führer seiner Klasse (Ernst Thälmann – Leader of his Class) 1955 East Germany Kurt Maetzig Feature [14]
On the Bowery 1956 Lionel Rogosin United States Docufiction [15]
The Cool World 1964 Shirley Clarke United States Feature [16]
Obyknovennyy fashizm (Ordinary Fascism) 1965 Mikhail Romm Soviet Union Documentary
La battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) 1966 Gillo Pontecorvo Italy
Terra em Transe (Entranced Earth) 1967 Glauber Rocha Brazil Feature [17]
La Chinoise, ou plutôt à la Chinoise: un film en train de se fair (The Chinese, or, rather, in the Chinese manner: a film in the making) 1967 Jean-Luc Godard France Feature
Titicut Follies 1967 Frederick Wiseman United States Documentary [18]
La hora de los hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces) 1968 Fernando Solanas Argentina Feature
In the Year of the Pig 1968 Emile de Antonio United States Documentary [19]
Teorema (Theorem) 1968 Pier Paolo Pasolini Italy Feature [20]
if.... 1968 Lindsay Anderson United Kingdom Feature
Z 1969 Costa-Gavras Algeria/France Feature
Yawar Mallku (Blood of the Condor) 1969 Jorge Sanjinés Bolivia Feature
Burn! (Queimada) 1969 Gillo Pontecorvo Italy/France Feature
Salesman 1969 Albert and David Maysles
Charlotte Zwerin
United States Documentary [21]
Le Chagrin et la Pitié (The Sorrow and the Pity) 1970 Marcel Ophüls France
West Germany
Documentary [22]
Ghoroub wa Shorouq (Sunset and Sunrise) 1970 Kamal El Sheikh Egypt Feature [23]
Warum läuft Herr R. Amok? (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) 1970 Rainer Werner Fassbinder West Germany Feature [24]
Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt (It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives) 1971 Rosa von Praunheim Germany Documentary [25]
Wanda 1971 Barbara Loden United States Feature
La classe operaia va in paradiso (The Working Class Goes to Heaven) 1971 Elio Petri Italy Feature
Il Caso Mattei (The Mattei Affair) 1972 Francesco Rosi Italy Feature
Sambizanga 1972 Sarah Maldoror Democratic Republic of the Congo Feature [26]
La Société du Spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) 1974 Guy Debord France Documentary
Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul) 1974 Rainer Werner Fassbinder West Germany Feature
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels) 1975 Chantal Akerman Belgium
Feature [27][28]
Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom) 1975 Pier Paolo Pasolini Italy
All the President's Men 1976 Alan J. Pakula United States Feature
Harlan County, USA 1976 Barbara Kopple United States Documentary
Yarınsız Adam (The Man Without Tomorrow) 1977 Remzi Aydın Jöntürk Turkey Feature
Satılmış Adam (The Sold Man) 1977 Remzi Aydın Jöntürk Turkey Feature
Yıkılmayan Adam (The Indestructible Man) 1978 Remzi Aydın Jöntürk Turkey Feature
Baara (Work) 1978 Souleymane Cissé Mali Feature
Reds 1981 Warren Beatty United States Feature
The Wave 1981 Alex Grasshoff United States Feature [29]
Yol (The Road) 1982 Şerif Gören
Yılmaz Güney
Turkey Feature
Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community 1984 Greta Schiller United States Documentary
Nineteen Eighty-Four[30] 1984 Michael Radford United Kingdom Feature
Shoah 1985 Claude Lanzmann France Documentary
Camp de Thiaroye (The Camp of Thiaroye) 1988 Ousmane Sembene
Thierno Faty Sow
Senegal Feature
American Dream 1990 Barbara Kopple United States
United Kingdom
JFK 1991 Oliver Stone United States Feature
In the Name of the Father 1993 Jim Sheridan United States Feature [31]
Land and Freedom 1995 Ken Loach United Kingdom
Lumumba 2000 Raoul Peck France
Feature [32]
Intimacy 2001 Patrice Chéreau France
United Kingdom
Feature [33]
Jang Aur Aman (War and Peace) 2002 Anand Patwardhan India Documentary [34]
Gujarat: A Laboratory of Hindu Rashtra, Fascism[undue weight?discuss] 2003 Suma Josson India Documentary
Fahrenheit 9/11 2004 Michael Moore United States Documentary
Memoria del saqueo (Social Genocide) 2004 Fernando Solanas Argentina Documentary [35]
Darwin's Nightmare 2004 Hubert Sauper Austria
Documentary [36]
500 Years Later 2005 Owen Alik Shahadah United Kingdom
United States
Documentary [37]
Syriana 2005 Stephen Gaghan United States Feature
The Road to Guantánamo 2006 Michael Winterbottom
Mat Whitecross
United Kingdom Docudrama
The Last Communist 2006 Amir Muhammad Malaysia Documentary [38]
The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez 2006 Heidi Specogna Switzerland Documentary
An Inconvenient Truth 2006 Davis Guggenheim United States Documentary
Persepolis 2007 Marjane Satrapi
Vincent Paronnaud
Feature [39]
Unrepentant: Kevin Annett and Canada's Genocide[undue weight?discuss] 2006 Louie Lawless Canada Documentary [40]
Sicko 2007 Michael Moore United States Documentary
What Would Jesus Buy 2007 Morgan Spurlock United States Documentary
The World Without US 2008 Mitch Anderson and Jason J. Tomaric United States Documentary [41][42][43]
Religulous 2008 Larry Charles United States Documentary
Milk 2008 Gus Van Sant United States Feature
Capitalism: A Love Story 2009 Michael Moore United States Documentary
American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein[undue weight?discuss] 2009 Nicolas Rossier
David Ridgen
United States Documentary
The Yes Men Fix the World[undue weight?discuss] 2009 Andy Bichlbaum
Mike Bonanno
Kurt Engfehr
United States Documentary
Motherland 2010 Owen Alik Shahadah United States Documentary [44]
The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975 2011 Göran Olsson Sweden Documentary
The Ides of March 2011 George Clooney United States Feature
ToryBoy The Movie[undue weight?discuss] 2011 John Walsh United Kingdom Documentary
2016: Obama's America[undue weight?discuss] 2012 Dinesh D'Souza United States Documentary
No 2012 Pablo Larraín Chile
United States
Feature [45]
The Pervert's Guide to Ideology 2012 Sophie Fiennes United Kingdom Documentary [46]
America: Imagine the World Without Her[undue weight?discuss] 2014 Dinesh D'Souza
John Sullivan
United States Documentary
Spotlight[47] 2015 Tom McCarthy United States Feature
Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party[undue weight?discuss] 2017 Dinesh D'Souza
Bruce Schooley
United States Documentary
The Death of Stalin 2017 Armando Iannucci United Kingdom
Death of a Nation[undue weight?discuss] 2018 Dinesh D'Souza
Bruce Schooley
United States Documentary
Fahrenheit 11/9 2018 Michael Moore United States Documentary
Vice 2018 Adam McKay United States Feature
Friend of the World 2020 Brian Patrick Butler United States Feature [48]
The Hunt 2020 Craig Zobel United States Feature
Infidel 2020 Cyrus Nowrasteh United States Feature
Trump Card[undue weight?discuss] 2020 Dinesh D'Souza
Debbie D'Souza
Bruce Schooley
United States Documentary
Absolute Proof 2021 Brannon Howse
Mike Lindell
United States Documentary
Don't Look Up 2021 Adam McKay United States Feature
2000 Mules[undue weight?discuss] 2022 Dinesh D'Souza United States Documentary
Hemet, or the Landlady Don't Drink Tea 2023 Tony Olmos United States Feature [49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zimmer, Christian, and Lee Leggett. 1974. "All Films Are Political." SubStance 3(9):123–36. doi:10.2307/3684517. JSTOR 3684517.
  2. ^ Schoenbrun, Jane (9 November 2016). "All Movies are Political Movies. We Need to Do Better". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  3. ^ Welle (www.dw.com), Deutsche. "Cinema is Always Political, Says Star Director Costa-Gavras | DW | 03.02.2008". DW.COM. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  4. ^ Wayne, Mike. 2001. Political Film: The Dialectics of Third Cinema. London: Pluto Press. p. 1.
  5. ^ a b Mazierska, Ewa. 2014. "Introduction: Marking Political Cinema." Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 55(1):35–44. doi:10.13110/framework.55.1.0033.
  6. ^ "Birth of a Nation." filmsite.org.
  7. ^

    Griffith's highly controversial film, which glorifies the Ku Klux Klan, is widely considered to be a masterpiece due to its impact on the development of cinema. The basic structure consists of a description of an idealized lost idyll ("the Old South"), the disruption of this order during reconstruction post-Civil War, and the restoration of white supremacy, which is shown a legitimate goal that unites the former enemies. In the end, the leader of the KKK secures his private happiness too and the alleged idyll is restored.[citation needed]

  8. ^ Militant film about the misery of Belgian coal miners. Cf. Les Enfants du borinage: Lettre à Henri Storck, Director: Patric Jean, 2000.[citation needed]
  9. ^ Technically brilliant propaganda film about the Reichsparteitag in Nuremberg 1934.[citation needed]
  10. ^ Virulently antisemitic.[citation needed]
  11. ^ "He creates the image of an America that is complacent in its victory, prosperity and racism; the narrator warns: 'Nigger, kike, wop, take my advice and accept the facts – the world is already arranged for you' " (Barsam).
  12. ^ Legendary documentary feature film about a strike in New Mexico. Not only do the workers have to fight against the company, but also their women against their macho attitude in order to be "allowed" to support them fully.[citation needed]
  13. ^ Socialist realismGerman Democratic Republic style.[citation needed]
  14. ^ Socialist realism – German Democratic Republic style.[citation needed]
  15. ^ An important film about alcoholism and the homeless in New York City.[citation needed]
  16. ^ Focuses on the cruel reality of street life in the U.S.[citation needed]
  17. ^ Peter Rist (8 May 2014). Historical Dictionary of South American Cinema. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 550. ISBN 9780810880368. Terra em Transe (Land in Anguish, aka Entranced Earth) is also one of the most sophisticated political films ever made.
  18. ^ Wiseman shows the inhumane conditions at the Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts. The film was banned in the United States for over two decades.[citation needed]
  19. ^ A compilation film about the Vietnam War.[citation needed]
  20. ^ The power of desire disrupts a rich family.[citation needed]
  21. ^ Four men try to sell the Bible; one of the most important films of direct cinema.[citation needed]
  22. ^ Politically a pathbreaking documentary about collaboration in France during the German occupation.[citation needed]
  23. ^ "Remembering Kamal El-Sheikh: Egypt's pioneer of suspense - Screens - Arts & Culture". Ahram Online. Retrieved 19 January 2023.
  24. ^ Concerns the humiliating madness of ordinary life.[citation needed]
  25. ^ This film started the second gay movement in Germany.[citation needed]
  26. ^ Follows the liberation movement in Angola.[citation needed]
  27. ^ Mathijs, Ernest; Sexton, Jamie (30 March 2012). Cult Cinema - Ernest Mathijs, Jamie Sexton - Google Boeken. p. 140. ISBN 9781444396430. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  28. ^ "Chantal Akerman : Retour sur la carrière d'une cinéaste influente - Elle". 7 October 2015.
  29. ^ "The Wave (1981) - Alex Grasshoff | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie".
  30. ^ "1984 (1984) - Michael Radford | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie". Retrieved 11 February 2024 – via www.allmovie.com.
  31. ^ "In the Name of the Father (1993) - Jim Sheridan | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie".
  32. ^ A moving and very intelligent poetical reflection on the presence of apparently bygone hopes and disasters. [citation needed]
  33. ^ Intense erotic film on solitude, alienated sexuality and an impossible love.[citation needed]
  34. ^ On nuclear madness in India and Pakistan and their efforts to imitate Big Brother, USA.[citation needed]
  35. ^ A passionately partisan survey of the history of neoliberalism in Argentina.[citation needed]
  36. ^ Using the effect of fishing the Nile perch in Tanzania's Lake Victoria as an example, Sauper shows how Africa functions today, how famine, wars and aids, European "aid" and the ruthless plundering of African resources are connected.[citation needed]
  37. ^ An African American documentary on race and the social impact of slavery.
  38. ^ Documentary film based on the autobiography of Chin Peng, born in 1924, the last chairman of the forbidden Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) but this is not a conventional biographical film. Key elements in the film are the songs Hardesh Singh composed for the occasion. This is an often funny film about a difficult chapter in Malaysian history which is still taboo "back home".[citation needed]
  39. ^ Animated biographical film based on the graphic novel of the same name.[citation needed]
  40. ^ Hidden from History: The Canadian Holocaust: The Untold Story of the Aboriginal Genocide Archived 2005-05-10 at the Wayback Machine. Hidden from History.org. Accessed 4 March 2009.
  41. ^ "The World Without US: Editorial Review" (Web). Amazon. 13 January 2009. Retrieved 4 March 2009. [This 2008 documentary film is described as] 'a quick overview of the state of the world today, and a quick history lesson in how things have been going for the last 20 years or so, followed by a few things that seem very likely to occur if America decided to pull all of its military bases out of foreign countries and stop mucking about in foreign parts.'
  42. ^ Mitch Anderson. "Mitch Anderson's Biography". Mitch Anderson. Archived from the original (Web) on 15 June 2008. Retrieved 4 March 2009. Released in 2008, the documentary explores what might happen if the United States were to leave the international arena, rescind its global reach and become an isolationist nation for the first time since the early 20th century.
  43. ^ Trailer and "About the film" at "The World Without US (Home Page)" (Web). Retrieved 4 March 2009.
  44. ^ An African documentary on the history and contemporary state of Africa and African people.
  45. ^ "No (2012) - Pablo Larraín | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie".
  46. ^ with Slavoj Žižek
  47. ^ "Spotlight (2015) - Tom McCarthy | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie". Retrieved 11 February 2024 – via www.allmovie.com.
  48. ^ Parker, Sean (10 May 2022). "Friend of the World: The Divine Comedy of Body Horror". Horror Obsessive. Archived from the original on 11 May 2022. Retrieved 27 January 2024.
  49. ^ Mackin-Solomon, Ashley (14 January 2024). "'Good type of cringey': La Jolla filmmaker to screen latest creation at Oceanside International Film Festival". La Jolla Light. Archived from the original on 24 January 2024. Retrieved 27 January 2024.


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