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Digirama / 22.06.2023

The Intersection of Film and Politics: Exploring the Power of Cinematic Expression

In today's interconnected world, film and politics share a dynamic relationship that is both fascinating and influential. Cinema, as a powerful visual medium, has the potential to transcend entertainment and become a potent tool for expressing political ideas, sparking social movements, and driving meaningful change. By exploring the intersection of film and politics, we can uncover the intricate ways in which cinematic expression shapes our collective consciousness and contributes to the broader discourse of political science.


A Digirama by Nina Beckmann


Introduction

Film, as a visual medium, possesses a unique ability to captivate, inform, and shape public opinion. It has the potential to transcend mere entertainment and become a potent tool for political expression and social change. This essay delves into the various elements and examples that make a film political, highlighting the role of film technique and form, the influence of infrastructure, the potential for protest and mobilization, the significance of archiving and narrative creation, and the dangers of propaganda.

Film Technique and Form: Montage and Symbolism

Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein argued that the form, rather than the content, makes a film political. One crucial aspect of form is montage, characterized by quick edits, time condensation, and deliberate organization of shots. Through montage, filmmakers can create associations and evoke emotions in viewers. Symbolic relationships, contrasts, and thought-provoking connections can be established, enabling filmmakers to manipulate perception and guide the audience's response. The power of montage lies in its ability to connect images and generate meanings that go beyond the individual shots, making it a potent political tool.


Alfred Hitchcock / 1964
Hitchcock Explains the Kuleshov Effect to Fletcher Markle
MediaFilmProfessor
In this video, Alfred Hitchcock explains the Kuleshov Effect. The Kuleshov Effect, invented by Lev Kuleshov, is a specific example of montage editing. By juxtaposing different shots in a specific sequence, Hitchcock explains how the meaning and emotional impact of a shot can be influenced by its context. The effect highlights the power of editing and the ability to manipulate the viewer's perception and emotions through the arrangement of shots.

Infrastructure and Political Control

The accessibility and control of filmmaking resources play a significant role in shaping the political nature of films. In instances like Algeria, where colonial authorities or post-independence governments controlled infrastructure, aspiring filmmakers faced challenges in representing alternative narratives or critical viewpoints. However, filmmakers have also found innovative ways to overcome these obstacles through guerrilla filmmaking techniques and alternative distribution channels. The control of infrastructure can significantly influence the political content and impact of films, emphasizing the importance of accessible resources for marginalized voices.


Léopold Lambert / 04.07.2022
Algerian Independence and Global Revolution 1962-2022: Introduction
The Funambulist
This article is an introduction to the 42nd issue of The Funambulist magazine, which focuses on the Algerian Revolution and its significance in global anti-colonial revolutionary movements. The article discusses the importance of commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Algerian Revolution's final victory against French settler colonialism. It emphasizes that the legacy of the revolution extends beyond the liberation of one territory and one people, highlighting its relevance to African, Arab, Amazigh, and global anti-colonial struggles.

Ousmane Sembène / 22.01.2021
Caméra d'Afrique (African Cinema: Filming Against All Odds) Restored - Ousmane Sembène Excerpt
African Film Festival
In this extract of the documentary "Camera d'Afrique," Ousmane Sembène, who is widely known as the "father of African cinema," challenges the dominant European-centered ideas that were prevalent in African cinema during the 1960s and 1970s. Sembène wanted to show the real lives and experiences of African people from an African point of view. He believed it was important to give priority to African voices and stories. By doing this, he aimed to break down the dominance of European perspectives and give African people the power to express themselves, taking back control of their own stories in films. 

Film as a Form of Protest and Mobilization

Film can serve as a powerful form of protest and mobilization, as demonstrated by the Mosireen Collective during the Egyptian Revolution. Through their films, the collective showcased the realities of ordinary citizens, countered mainstream narratives, and provided a platform for marginalized perspectives. Their storytelling and editing techniques evoked emotions and ignited collective consciousness, inspiring individuals to take action and demand change. Film, in this context, becomes a tool of resistance, raising awareness and mobilizing communities towards social transformation.


Mosireen /Januar 2013
858: An Archive of Resistance
Mosireen is an independent media collective based in Egypt. Their website serves as a platform for alternative media production, offering videos, articles, and resources that provide unique perspectives on social and political issues in Egypt. Through their citizen journalism approach, Mosireen aims to challenge mainstream narratives and amplify marginalized voices. They actively promote social justice and encourage community engagement in media creation.

Archiving and Creating a Narrative

The way a revolution is archived can also be political, as it determines how events are perceived and provides a narrative justification. Filming Revolution, an online archive, presents the Egyptian Revolution as an ongoing process rather than a fixed time period. It emphasizes the importance of every individual's contribution and challenges the dominant narrative of a leader-led movement. By using a non-linear and polysemous structure, the archive highlights the ongoing, open-ended nature of the revolution and connects it to past revolutionary activities. Furthermore, the involvement of various perspectives and alternative forms of storytelling challenges hierarchical narratives and supports the ambition of a future without hierarchy. ,


Alisa Lebow / 2018
Filming Revolution
Stanford University Press
“Filming Revolution" is an online archive created by Alisa Lebow, a filmmaker and university scholar. It focuses on filmmaking in Egypt from 2011 to 2014. The archive features interviews, articles, and film excerpts from Egyptian filmmakers, providing insights into their experiences during and after the revolution. It was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and supported by the University of Sussex.

Alisa Lebow / 14.04.2016
Seeing Revolution Non-Linearly
Visual Anthropology
In this article, Alisa Lebow discusses her ideas and approach behind the creation of "Filming Revolution" as an interactive online archive with a non-hierarchical, polysemous structure.

Lara Baladi / 2012
Alone, Together... In Media Res
Filming Revolution
The extract from Lara Baladi's video installation "Alone, Together... In Media Res" showcases how the Egyptian revolution can be connected to previous revolutionary activities. Baladi collected and researched various footage that resonated with the spirit of Tahrir Square, including historical clips, philosophical speeches, and banned cartoons. By linking seemingly unrelated elements like 'Alice in Wonderland', 'Snap - I've got the Power', and Malcolm X's speech on democracy, Baladi highlights the questions raised during the revolution and sheds light on police brutality and state despotism. The footage used by Baladi predicts future events and reflects the search for freedom over the past sixty years. This illustrates how the Egyptian revolution can be seen as part of a broader revolutionary heritage.

Syrian Archive / seit 2014
Syrian Archive
Mnemonic
The Syrian Archive is an independent Syrian-led organization that is dedicated to preserving and documenting human rights violations and other crimes committed during the conflict in Syria. The organization focuses on collecting, verifying, and preserving digital evidence, such as videos, photos, and documents, related to human rights abuses, attacks on civilians, and other violations of international humanitarian law. The Syrian Archive's primary goal is to ensure that this evidence is securely archived and made accessible for use in legal proceedings, advocacy, and accountability efforts. By documenting and archiving these materials, the Syrian Archive aims to contribute to truth-seeking, justice, and the prevention of future atrocities. The organization operates as a non-profit and relies on open-source intelligence, citizen journalism, and collaboration with various partners to fulfill its mission. It is a project established by Mnemonic which is an NGO dedicated to archiving, investigating and memorialising digital information documenting human rights violations and international crimes. There are similar projects in Yemen, Sudan and Ukraine.


Propaganda: The Dark Side of Film's Political Influence

Film can also be used as a tool for propaganda, as exemplified by Leni Riefenstahl's film "Olympia" during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Riefenstahl's aesthetics reflected fascist ideals, glorifying an irresistible leader, promoting physical perfection, and creating a sense of community. Her strategic shots and editing techniques humanized Hitler, while omitting certain incidents and focusing on selective victories, raising questions about potential racism. The study of propaganda in film reminds us of the dangers of manipulation and selective representation for political purposes. ,


Marko Martin / 04.04.2019
Über die Filmlust der totalitären Ideologen. Peter Demetz:"Diktatoren im Kino“
Deutschlandfunk Kultur
In this interview, Marko Martin discusses Peter Demetz's book "Diktatoren im Kino," in which Demetz analyzes how dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini used cinema for their political purposes.

Anne Kohlick / 30.10.2020
Abrechnung mit Hitlers Lieblingsregisseurin. Nina Gladitz: “Leni Riefenstahl. Karriere einer Täterin”
Deutschlandfunk Kultur
In this interview, Anne Kohlick reviews Nina Gladitz's book "Leni Riefenstahl. Karriere einer Täterin," in which Gladitz attempts to unmask Riefenstahl's claims of innocence and, on the contrary, exposes her intrigues and morally reprehensible actions.

Volker Kluge / 2018
Anatol, the “Torchbearer”. The truth about the prologue to Riefenstahl’s OLYMPIA
International Society of Olympic Historians
Volker Kluge's article questions Leni Riefenstahl's narrative surrounding her role in the film "Olympia." He highlights that Riefenstahl was chosen by Hitler, not the International Olympic Committee. Kluge also criticizes Riefenstahl's decision to replace the torchbearer based on appearance and her omission of her cameraman's credit.

Conclusion

The political nature of film encompasses various elements, from technique and form to infrastructure, protest, archiving, and propaganda. Films possess the power to influence public opinion, challenge power structures, raise awareness, and mobilize communities. Filmmakers have the responsibility to utilize this power ethically, embracing diverse perspectives and promoting social justice. By critically analyzing films and understanding the intentions and messages conveyed, viewers can engage with cinema in a more informed and politically conscious manner. Ultimately, the intersection of film and politics presents a dynamic platform for expression and social change, shaping the collective consciousness of society.


Bibliography

  • Bady, Aaron (2012). “Spectators to Revolution: Western Audiences and the Arab Spring's Rhetorical Consistency.” In Cinema Journal, Volume 52, Number 1, Fall 2012, pp. 137-142, https://doi.org/10.1353/cj.2012.0114.
  • Dickinson, Kay (2018). Cinematic Third Worldism: “Resolutions of the Third World Filmmakers Meeting” (Algeria 1973). In: Arab Film and Video Manifestos. Palgrave Studies in Arab Cinema. Palgrave Pivot, Cham. https://doi-org.ezproxy.st-andrews.ac.uk/10.1007/978-3-319-99801-5_3.
  • Eisenstein, Sergei (1924). “The Montage of Film Attractions.” In Sergei Eisenstein: Selected Works Writings, 1922–34, edited by Richard Taylor, 39-58. London: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2010.
  • Gladitz, Nina (2020). „Leni Riefenstahl – Karriere einer Täterin.“ Zürich, 2020.
  • Lebow, Alisa (2016). “Seeing Revolution Non-Linearly: www.filmingrevolution.org.” In Visual Anthropology, Volume 29, 2016 - Issue 3: Visual Revolutions in the Middle East, 278- 295, https://doi.org/10.1080/08949468.2016.1154751.
  • Mosireen (2014). “Revolution Triptych.” In Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East, edited by Anthony Downey. London: I.B. Tauris, 2014. 47–52. Bloomsbury Collections. Web. 1 Nov. 2022. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9780755608881.0008.
  • Sontag, Susan (1980). “Fascinating Fascism.” In Under the sign of Saturn, 1980. https://content.talisaspire.com/sta/bundles/62f395903e90d54b703bd414.

 

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