The Persuasive Process in the Cinema after the Cold War

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Initially movies were part of the entertainment industry. However, during its diffusion and the media proliferation, movies became also a tool for education and tool for addressing different political issues and thus expressing diverse agendas worldwide. As such, movies often were used by governments worldwide to shape and promote certain ideas and many times politics and movies were in one popularizing position. Thereby, movies no matter of genre were projecting ideologies which were spread by the big screen.

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Twentieth century has been a period of great technological development. According to Carey, however, technology was not the only sector of advancement but alongside the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power and the growth of corporate propaganda . Within the continuation of political issues, movie industry was further spoiled by persuasive messages and proclamation which used beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Through the screen is created a “friendly atmosphere” which in long term influence could predispose the audience to pay attention to unfamiliar till then agenda. This aspect of propaganda is called “subpropaganda” by Doob or also associated by the term proposed by L. John Martin- “facilitative communication” seen also in movies .

Jowett and O’Donnell argue, however that this approach is not propaganda, but communication and as such could grant propagandists with suitable, positive attitude. Movies could be easily connected to this statement, because of the entertainment goal of the industry. Movies are not considered strictly educational, but provide broader context: pleasure based, audience perceive films as positive environment in general. With the establishment of film festivals worldwide, magazines with critics’ response and on broader scale, platforms like IMDb, today we can observe a process of “communication” between audience and films. Thus the film could be positioned between the influence of propaganda and persuasion depending on the circumstances around it when representing national famous story or presenting an issue with global consequences.

As Jowett and O’ Donnell continued their explanation-“ both persuasion and propaganda trend to produce messages of resonance” - meaning that the audience is not obliged to perceive the proclaimed ideas, but perceive the foundation of these ideas through which in future propagandists and persuaders can use for further influence based on the abovementioned beliefs, values and attitudes. The authors however, make distinction between propaganda and persuasion based on the number in the society being affected by them: propagandists aim at bigger audiences and persuaders focus more on individuals. However, isn’t a movie capable of doing both? In the same time scope it is shown worldwide but also ‘speaks’ with each subject individually depending on the cultural and political influence in the society. Maybe it is also important to mention also art movies as player in this spectrum.

Some movies are capable of arousing emotions that could even not exist before, but later on after watching a movie that captured powerful event from the past people’s incentive is “called” on the surface. These feelings have historical construction and play further role into existing emotional and historical legacies today . Interesting example is the recent movie “Loving Vincent” (2017) which is also the first feature-length painted animation . The film questions the historical proves behind Van Gog’s suicide and brings in the point of the possible murder of the painter. In light of this plot, the movie evokes increased interest in Van Gog’s work and promotes different perspective of his life that can play as historical feature for the construction of the historical legacy.

When speaking about propaganda, we should also mention the notion censorship. It is also vital part of the trends used for influencing the masses because when you cannot see something and thus you do not know about it, then it does not reflect on you. Censorship’s meaning consists basically of the supervision of both moral or government’s stability and security. However, Lyons claims that “in the context of film production, distribution, and exhibition, censorship refers to a set off practices by institutions or group, either prior to or following a film’s release, that result in the removal of a word, a scene, or an entire film from the marketplace” . Going from here, censorship could play significant role in the movie industry because it can place the power in certain circles and thereby create antidemocratic flows. Furthermore, for the strengthening of the persuasion effect sometimes the use of censuring the society is vital, but it’s not used always side by side with propaganda because of the different political constellations, mostly, of course, depending on the country and its agenda.

Cases, where movies were restricted exist from the beginning of the development of the cinema industry and the censorship even increased in some periods with the claims that films are not part of the press or organ of public opinion, but just simple remedy for profit . Example could be USA where after 1930 the censorship of films was constitutional. This means that movies had to follow certain rules called Hays Production Code, backed up by the government and by Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) under its president Will Hays . The code had the task to guard the society from unmoral messages and in general content.

However, after 1968 the cinema industry abolished the Hays Production Code and replaced them with the MPAA film rating system which meant lesser restriction and more accurate categorization and distribution of movies. However, during the years were conducted policies resonating the international situation. Urwand’s book, for instance, “Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler” represent such a policy. During Hitler’s era, the author claims, Hollywood agreed not to depict Germany in negative light and not to mention the Jew issue which is also very interesting especially because the migrated Jews in the cinema industry constituted big portion of the personnel. As a matter of fact, this policy was led because of fears of invoking anti- Jewish reaction in USA. Soon after that started to appear protests groups which were involved in the question of how movie content should be controlled . These groups were also politically active and thus there was a difference between their understandings: on the Right pole people claims that movies should be free to illustrate viewpoints, sex and religion.

On the other hand, people on the Left consider directors using their position and thus depiction women, ethnic groups, different sexual orientation which made the movies objectionable . The censorship struggle in USA has changed during the years, for example between 1980s and 1995 the control was in the hands of the Republicans and movies were battleground for politicians and propagandists of cultural values and history. However, going back in time, after 1960s censorship was questioned as the restrictions were perceived as non-legitimate because there was no standard for the films and the appeal reached to court. Thus, films started to be considered protected speech and part of the press of the nation. The connection between censorship and propaganda thus is influential, especially today when the practice of censorship is still used.

Even in the years of cinema’s developing, films were used to depict political events and conflicts. During the wars and the following aftermath in the face of the Cold war, movies were part of a policy pointed at the goal of reshaping international spheres of influence. In the end of 1960, when the issue of the Vietnam War and the question regarding the American supremacy was rising, movies like “The Wild Bunch” (1969), “Little Big Man” (1970) and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (1971), resonate this period and show the actual response of the American society . Hollywood’s grip on the world’s screen produced commercial movies sometimes with propagandistic purposes, and sometimes especially focused on anti- communistic agenda. On the other hand, Soviet movie production was controlled by the party and thus emphasize was on the greatness of the Russia’s Revolution, the political leaders and the future of the Soviet Union as prosperous country. In order to completely use films as tool, Russian filmmakers created a technique called montage, through which was developed a visual way of achieving a certain psychological effect which was soon used in the production of movies with anti- American films.

Nowadays, not only Hollywood has censorship relations with Russia. The Ukrainian parliament decided to accept in its film policy law that will ban more than 100 Russia films and TV shows. The ban is directed against productions that propagandize Russian polices or armed forces or are with anti- Ukrainian agenda . Such policies do not stop here as we can give examples as the “Red sparrow” from this year (2018) which is an UK release and portrays the espionage between USA and Russia. The movie was banned, alongside with “The Death of Stalin” that were perceived either as too sadistic or as such that Russian politicians like Nikolai Starikov claimed that the production is an ‘unfriendly act by the British intellectual class’ and said it was very clear that the film was part of an ‘anti-Russian information war’ aimed at discrediting the figure of Stalin” .

However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Berlin Wall, the film tendency changed. The former communistic countries and some European cinemas (like the French one) “subsidized their film industries not only to use them as propaganda vehicles but also to demonstrate a subtle ‘artistic superiority’ to the crassly commercial cinema of the noncommunist world” . Furthermore, the films were a long waited answer on the communist system and its reality and thereby were noticed by the West society which turned its attention towards this region and included many of these movies in the international awards events. Example for this is the movie “Burnt by the sun” made by the Russian Nikita Mikhalkov won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1995. The movie depicts the problems of Stalinist era and the values in the face of national identity, heroism and masculinity during time of repression and fear when the dictatorship was in its heyday.

Another example could be the Czech’s movie “Larks on a String” (1990) which won Golden Bear at the 40th Berlin International Film Festival and depicts the destiny of people considered part of the bourgeois class. The director Jiří Menzel had the chance to release his production after the fall of Communism, because the government has banned the film. The transnational movie “Underground” (1995), on the other hand, shows the fate of participants of the Serbian communistic resistance during the Second world but through the prism of comedy events. The co-production between the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, France, Germany, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Hungary won also the prestigious award Palme d'Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. However, the movie was accused to be Serbian propaganda, even fascist production and “a metaphor for the breakup of Yugoslavia, a metaphor that some critics believe excused Serbs from responsibility” . In general the movie is stage for major political debates as the director E. Kusturica was even accused to be working for political purposes with Milosevic and thus is claimed that the movie is financed by the political party in that time . The development of such movies as the mentioned above is important because it can be noticed freedom of state control and the integration in the international community and market .

In the West, in the last years of the Cold war propaganda was used majorly for international events like the danger of nuclear power (The China Syndrome,1979) or the violence and security as issues (Natural Born Killers, 1996 and Top Gun, 1986) ); or even far from our point of thoughts- the situation in Chili (Missing, 1982)- that is still worth mentioning. With the new century, however, were shot movies like “Black Hawk Down” which won two Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing at the 74th Academy Awards in 2002. The film depicts a military operation in Somalia, during which died 19 American soldiers. It is claimed that the movie has embedded anti-war agenda, however in the same time critics describe it as part of much bigger picture concerning the ‘old’ imperialistic propaganda. Furthermore, the film is part of certain ideological agendas like “the war of terrorism” or the antiwar/ pro-war agenda (The Hurt Locker, 2009 and Goodbye, Christopher Robin, 2017). Alongside were created movies “speaking about problems like feminism, freedom of speech, religion, etc.

Obviously, film’s propagandistic purposes changed abruptly after the Cold War. In overall, this tendency continued during the years after 1989, but still could be noticed the importance of films as “battleground for contrasting visions of democracy . International relations in a world scope are also a factor in the movies’ plot. “The interview” from 2014 depicts the assassination of Kim Jong un- the North Korea’s leader. The movie is distributed by Sony Pictures and the company suffered North Korea’s threats for violent retaliation. As result, United States took the matter into their hands and urged Sony Pictures no to worry about the threats. Thereafter, Sony released the movie but in limited ratio. The conflict shows how influenced is the politic and the results from it in the face of collaboration and economic effects . The author further claims in his book “Film, form, and culture” that “film may be a bargaining chip in foreign policy, always an economic commodity, sometimes the subject of the politician’s wrath at home” . In other words he argues that film is not only business, but it could be also major part of the core of politics. If we think of a movie as an alternative reality which “aim is to discover, to encounter, to confront and to reveal” , then cinema has strong relation to the real life events in every aspect of it, including the political life. Actually, in many documentary movies could be notice features of promotion of product or service; religious proselytizing and political propaganda .

These trends are even more influential nowadays, when actors become politically involved and either from the big screen or just with their attitude and statements promote their opinions and ideas thus influencing the society. Examples are Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Emma Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch, etc. However, for the purposes of this thesis I will focus on films that have won prestigious award in the face of the Oscars, Berlin, Cannes, and the British awards- BAFTA. Of course, not every film has political message, but we will see that there is a percentage of films that are tools used to be made a political reference. Therefore, we can conclude that movies are not just part of the entertainment “zone”, but an entertainment which provokes inner struggles concerning what people are imposed to think which brings us back to the problem of propaganda and persuasion in the cinema industry and the politics involvements in it.

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