Why do you think cinema might be a particularly powerful tool in periods of political conflict or change?
Cinema itself is particularly powerful when it comes to promoting change due to its intensely immersive nature. The combination of visual and audio information directly addresses multiple senses, which is usually successful in creating an authentic emotional response from the audience. Lenin believed that “of all the arts, for us, the cinema is most important” and could be the most influential propaganda tool, balancing education and entertainment.
A powerful example of manipulating audience emotions would be the Soviet propagandistic film Strike, directed by Sergei Eisenstein. His utilisation of montage generates a shock reaction through juxtaposing every shot which produces “collision”. This collision implants educational ideas, forwarding his political passion and expressing his beliefs. Whilst Eisenstein avoids narrative storytelling, he constructs a factual and dramatic film through the use of metaphors and motifs. For example, the images of slaughtering cattle cut against the workers retreating from armed forces connote how they are being treated inhumanely.
Eisenstein’s intention of reaching and equipping the masses may have been unfulfilled due to its formalist style. The ideas shown through the montaged content were inaccessible to many of the lower classes due to the unprivileged nature of their social background. Strike was instrumental in triggering a genuine change in their communist society and thus proved documentaries can be integral in the development of society. This can also be seen through the Swedish socio-political film Ingeborg Holm. A story of a mother and her children who are at the mercy of the social care system in their country which proves to be unjust and inadequate. This led to the reformation of Sweden’s workhouse laws and is rumoured to be based on a true story, documenting the family’s struggle.
We believe that cinema is a powerful, revolutionary tool with the ability to shape and change the opinions of a targeted audience. During times of socio-political conflict, we would have thought that mass audiences were more likely to depend on creative outlets for escapism. However, it created an opportunity for propagandist cinema to come to fruition for many filmmakers, such as Victor Sjöström and Eisenstein. Drawing similarities between Eisenstein’s Strike and Sjöström’s Ingeborg Holm, it could be perhaps conducive to illustrate that both are commentaries of social and political reformation within their relevant times. Sjöström perhaps satirises and mocks the Swedish government due to the ineffective care provided by the state. Whereas, Eisenstein paints a picture of utter devastation, depicting lower class workers as having the ability to rise up against a powerful hierarchy. Where power against the hierarchy in Ingeborg Holm lacks, Strike offers a powerful political message in the sense that it provides the underbelly of German society with a voice.
The modern documentary Making a Murderer, directed by Moira Demos and Laura Riccariardi, generated a powerful reaction against the criminal justice system in America. The story follows the case of Steven Avery who is positioned as a victim of the legal system. The audience largely responded by questioning whether the authorities are trustworthy as the documentary reveals the shocking and negligent ways in which the case was handled. For example, officials appearing to have planted false evidence to ensure Avery’s conviction. CNN reported last year that a petition to pardon the subjects of the docuseries received almost 130,000 signatures. The immense reaction indicates the influence the Netflix Original series had over society. Whilst it could be argued that the way the documentary is constructed, has the audience align with certain characters so misrepresentation could be debated. If they had captured the proceedings from a different perspective, perhaps a contrasting meaning and effect would have been conceived.
The viewing platform of Netflix made the documentary vastly accessible to a multinational audience. This demonstrates how cinema is a powerful tool as it connected with a broad and diverse audience leading to developmental social change, similar to the above films of Ingeborg Holm and Strike. Therefore demonstrating the power of cinema, specifically when utilised for documentary, on a nation where other art or entertainment forms may not be so persuasive and engaging.