Political cinema

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Political cinema, in the narrow sense of the term, is films that portray current or historical events or social conditions through a partisan perspective in order to inform or to agitate 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:

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 2021-03-10.
  3. ^ Welle (www.dw.com), Deutsche. "Cinema is Always Political, Says Star Director Costa-Gavras | DW | 03.02.2008". DW.COM. Retrieved 2021-03-10.
  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. ^

    D. W. Griffith's highly controversial film, which glorifies the Ku Klux Klan, is widely considered to be a masterpiece because of its impact on the development of the cinema. The basic structure consists of a description of an idealized lost idyll ("the Old South"), the disruption of this order during reconstruction after the 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 Ku Klux Klan 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. ^ An important film about alcoholism; homeless people in New York City.[citation needed]
  15. ^ About the cruel reality of street life in the U.S.[citation needed]
  16. ^ In his first film Wiseman shows the inhumane conditions in Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts. For more than 20 years the film could not been shown in the USA.[citation needed]
  17. ^ A compilation film about the Vietnam War.[citation needed]
  18. ^ The power of desire disrupts a rich family.[citation needed]
  19. ^ Four men try to sell the Bible; one of the most important films of Direct Cinema.[citation needed]
  20. ^ Politically a pathbreaking documentary about collaboration in France during the German occupation.[citation needed]
  21. ^ Concerns the humiliating madness of ordinary life.[citation needed]
  22. ^ This film started the second gay movement in Germany.[citation needed]
  23. ^ A feature film about the liberation movement in Angola.[citation needed]
  24. ^ A poignant feature film about racism, sexuality, love and ageism.[citation needed]
  25. ^ Mathijs, Ernest; Sexton, Jamie (2012-03-30). Cult Cinema - Ernest Mathijs, Jamie Sexton - Google Boeken. p. 140. ISBN 9781444396430. Retrieved 2015-02-20.
  26. ^ "Chantal Akerman : Retour sur la carrière d'une cinéaste influente - Elle". 7 October 2015.
  27. ^ A moving and very intelligent poetical reflection on the presence of apparently bygone hopes and disasters. Dubbed in English.[citation needed]
  28. ^ Intense feature film on solitude, alienated sexuality, and an impossible love.[citation needed]
  29. ^ On nuclear madness in India and Pakistan and their efforts to imitate Big Brother, USA.[citation needed]
  30. ^ A passionately partisan survey of the history of neoliberalism in Argentina.[citation needed]
  31. ^ 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]
  32. ^ An African American documentary on race and the social impact of slavery.
  33. ^ 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]
  34. ^ Animated film based on the graphic novel of the same name.[citation needed]
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ "The World Without US: Editorial Review" (Web). Retrieved 2009-03-04. [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.' 
  37. ^ Mitch Anderson. "Mitch Anderson's Biography". Mitch Anderson. Archived from the original (Web) on 2008-06-15. Retrieved 2009-03-04. 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.
  38. ^ Trailer and "About the film" at "The World Without US (Home Page)" (Web). Retrieved 2009-03-04.
  39. ^ An African documentary on the history and contemporary state of Africa and African people.


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