Cinema, like all art forms, is often overtly political and has been this way since its beginning. Periods of conflict or change are no exception to this, and we often see cinema react to the political status quo by either condoning or condemning it. For example, we can see many examples of anti-war films made during the Vietnam War (Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter) and though they were made over a century apart we can see the similarities between films like Ingeborg Holm (1906) and Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (2016), which both focus on poverty and the class system. This blog post will explain why cinema can be so powerful as a political tool, especially in times of political conflict and change.
Soviet Montage is useful in showing why cinema can be such a powerful tool in periods of political conflict or change, as Montage filmmakers were often revolutionaries themselves and Lenin himself even said that ‘of all the arts, the most important for us is the cinema’. One reason cinema was so important to Montage directors (and filmmakers all over the world) was its accessibility. Much of the population was illiterate, and so films were able to succeed where books could not in passing on a revolutionary message. The Montage directors were very skilled at innovating new ways to communicate through film, and director Sergei Eisenstein talks in his essay ‘A Dialectic Approach to Film Form’ about how he constructed meaning in a similar way to the dialectic method of thesis, antithesis and synthesis by putting conflicting images next to each other to create collision. Films such as Strike and Battleship Potemkin used this method to show the oppression of the workers and inspire revolution, and these films were made widely accessible to the population by the efforts of the government.
We can also look at Swedish cinema as an example of how cinema has influenced political change. Ingeborg Holm caused controversy for its realistic depiction of the Swedish social system, which helped promote change of the welfare system. This is a good example of how cinema can effect change, as using a realistic setting is more likely to have an impact on the audience due to its authentic representation. By using this technique, political cinema provokes a larger emotional response from the audience since they are able to find more relatable ideologies within the text.
Similarly to Ingeborg Holm, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s 1988 film A Short Film About Killing is another good example of how important cinema can be in enacting political change. The film focused on the death penalty, and resulted in a debate in Poland about its use. Filmmaker Cyrus Frisch noted that ‘in Poland, this film was instrumental in the abolition of the death penalty’, which shows the huge impact that films can have on the political landscape of a country.
In conclusion, there are many reasons why cinema can be a particularly powerful tool in periods of political conflict or change, as it is an important storytelling medium which is often used to highlight significant political issues. This can be seen throughout many examples of film through various different countries, showcasing how political cinema is necessary for all cultures to establish a systematic change.