Film and Propaganda

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 03 October 2019
Friday 26 June 2020
20 August 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA QP10 English Language with Media Communication,
BA QP11 English Language with Media Communication (Including Year Abroad),
BA QP12 English Language with Media Communication (Including Placement Year)

Module description

Can film and media really tell us what to think? Why was a film about a 1905 naval mutiny banned in Britain 20 years after the events depicted, but subsequently voted the best film ever made? We often assume that politically sponsored art is somehow necessarily 'bad' but what, if anything, is the difference between 'propaganda', 'persuasion', and 'education'?

This module begins by considering what is meant when we speak of a text as 'propaganda', the autumn teaching term assessing key historical moments and moving image/sound texts, exploring these alongside arguments as to why moving image media in many countries and regions have been championed as vehicles for the transmission of political ideologies. In the second term, attention will be turned towards more recent examples and controversies regarding political manipulation of film and media across various platforms. For example, United States film and media, often traditionally seen as averse to promoting forms of political intervention and propaganda, will be explored in light of controversies around conspiracy-oriented films and media, and more recent debates relating to 'fake news'.

The primary focus of analysis will be on the production, marketing or promoting, and reception of moving image/sound media. Critical attention will be drawn to the problems and assumptions inherent within the straightforward model of 'encoding and decoding messages' assumed by 'dominant' cultural forces. The module will look at issues of media surveillance and control as well as the so-called democratization of film and digital media, with a strong emphasis on contextual and historical considerations.

Module aims

• To investigate film and media within and beyond categories normally labelled 'propaganda', 'persuasion', and 'education'
• To consider what is meant when we speak of a text as 'propaganda'
• To assess key historical moments and moving image/sound texts, exploring these alongside arguments as to why moving image media in many countries and regions have been championed as vehicles for the transmission of political ideologies
• To examine more recent examples and controversies regarding political manipulation of film and media across various platforms
• To further comprehend processes of production, promoting, and receiving of moving image/sound media
• To investigate problems and assumptions inherent within the straightforward model of 'encoding and decoding messages' assumed by 'dominant' cultural forces

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, therefore, students will
• Familiarity and understanding of different film and media texts in the contexts of issues of ‘propaganda’ and persuasion
• Enhanced ability to analyse and interrogate the modes and methods of producing film and media propaganda and persuasion
• Improved understanding of the operations ‘propaganda’ and persuasion in film and media across different cultural and historical contexts
• Enhanced writing and analytical skills
• Enhanced facility with written and other forms of expression across different media platforms
• Enhanced verbal and communication skills

Module information

An Indicative reading list (for updated list please see module handbook):

Allen, Robert C. and Douglas Gomery, Film History: Theory and Practice (New York: McGraw Hill, 1993) [PN1993.5.A1A6]

Belton, John, American Cinema, American Culture 2nd edn (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005) [PN1993.5.U6B4]

Burke, Peter, Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence (Reaktion, 2001) [D16.B8]

Christensen, Terry and Peter J. Haas, Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films, 2nd edn (Armonk and London: M.E. Sharpe, 2015) [PN1995.9.P6]

Connelly, Mark, and David Welch (eds), War and the Media: Reportage and Propaganda, 1900-2003 (I. B. Tauris, 2005) [HM263.7.W2]

Cook, Pam and Mieke Berninck (eds), The Cinema Book (BFI, 1999) [PN1994.C5]

Crowdus, Gary (ed.), The Political Companion to American Film (Chicago: Lake View Press, 1994) [PN1995.9.P6]

Dickenson, Ben, Hollywood's New Radicalism: War, Globalisation and the Movies from Reagan to George W. Bush (London and New York: I B Tauris, 2006) [available online]

Dye, Thomas and L. Harmon Zeigler, American Politics in the Media Age (Monterey: Brooks/Cole, 1983) [JK274]

Eberwein, Robert (ed.) The War Film (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005) [PN1995.9.W2]

Ellul, Jacques, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, trans. by Konrad Kellen and Jean Lerner (Alfred A. Knopf, 1965; also Vintage Books, 1973) [HM 263.E6]

Entman, Robert, Projections of Power: Framing News, Public Opinion, and U.S. Foreign Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004) [JK1746.P8E6]

Fiske, John, Media Matters: Everyday Culture and Political Change (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994) [E169.1.F5]

Franken, Al, Lies and the Lying Liars who tell them: A Fair and Balanced look at the Right (London: Penguin, 2004) [E903.F7]

Franklin, Daniel, Politics and Film: The Political Culture of Film in the United States (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006) [PN1995.9.P6F7]

Furhammar, Leif and Folke Isaksson, Politics and Film (Studio Vista, 1971) [PN 1995.9.P6]

Gans, Herbert, Democracy and the News (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) [HM263.3.U6]

Geiger, Jeffrey, American Documentary Film: Projecting the Nation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011) [PN1995.9.D6G4]

Graber, Doris (ed.), Media Power in Politics (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2007) [JK1745.P8M4]

Herman, Edward and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass media (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988) [HM263.3.U6]

Jamieson, Katherine Hall, The Media and Politics (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1996) [H1.A6]

Kahana, Jonathan, Intelligence Work: The Politics of American Documentary (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008) [PN1995.9.D6K2]

Kellner, Douglas, Media Spectacle and the Crisis of Democracy: Terrorism, War, and Election Battles (Boulder: Paradigm, 2005) [HM263.3.U6]

Landsberg, Alison, Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) [E169.12.L2]

Mayne, Judith, Cinema and Spectatorship (Routledge, 1993) [PN 1995.9.A8: normal and short loan copies]

Moy, Patricia and Michael Pfau, With Malice Toward All? The Media and Public Confidence in Democratic Institutions (Westport: Praeger, 2000) [available electronically via library catalogue]

Negrine, Ralph, The Communication of Politics (London: Sage, 1996) [JN329.P8]

Neve, Brian, Film and Politics in America: A Social Tradition (London and New York: Routledge, 1992) [PN1995.9.P6]

Orr, John, The Art and Politics of Film (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000) [PN1995.O7]

Page, Benjamin, Who Deliberates? Mass Media in Modern Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) [HM263.3.U6]

Rosenbaum, Jonathan, Movies as Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) [PN1995.9.P6]

Slocum, J. David, Hollywood and War: The Film Reader (New York: Routledge, 2006) [PN1995.9.W2]

Spector, Scott, 'Was the Third Reich Movie-Made? Interdisciplinarity and the Reframing of "Ideology"', The American Historical Review, 106.2 (April 2001), 460-84

Stites, Richard, Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society since 1900 (Cambridge UP, 1992) [DK 266.25]

Taithe, Bertrand, and Tim Thornton (eds) Propaganda: Political Rhetoric and Identity (Sutton, 1999) [JF1525.P8]

Taylor, Philip M., Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Era, 3rd edn (Manchester University Press, 2003) [JF1525.J8]

Taylor, Richard, Film Propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, 2nd edn (I.B. Tauris, 1998) [PN 1995.5.T2: 7 and 3 day loan copies]

Thompson, Oliver, Easily Led: A History of Propaganda (Sutton, 1999) [JF1525.P8]
Virilio, Paul, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (London: Verso, 1989) [PN1995.9.W2]

Learning and teaching methods

This course is run without lectures – the screening programme in the Cine-10 for this module is central to the learning experience, while attendance at seminars is compulsory. If you have a timetable clash and cannot make it to the cinema screenings, it is up to you to source and examine the key film and media resources for each week. The principal learning environment for this course is, therefore, the weekly seminar, during which you will be expected to make constructive contributions to class discussion, airing your ideas and responding respectfully to those of others. You are unlikely to maximise the potential of the learning environment if you come to classes unprepared – for this reason it is vital that you familiarise yourselves with the compulsory weekly readings before each seminar.


  • Damon Wise. (2010-09-17) 'How we finally got to the truth about Joaquin Phoenix's I'm Still Here', in Guardian.
  • Nolley, Ken. (1971-) 'Fahrenheit 9/11: Documentary, Truth-telling, and Politics', in Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies. vol. 35 (2) , pp.12-16
  • James Cameron. (2009) Avatar.
  • Morgan, Matthew J. (2009) The impact of 9/11 on the media, arts, and entertainment: the day that changed everything?, New York: Palgrave Macmillan. vol. 4th v
  • Hall, Stuart. (1993) 'Encoding, Decoding', in The Cultural studies reader, London: Routledge., pp.90-103
  • Paul Greengrass. (2006) United 93.
  • Moore, Michael. (2004) Fahrenheit 9/11, London: Optimum Home.
  • Eisenstein, Sergei. (1998, c1925) Battleship Potemkin, Chatsworth, CA: Image Entertainment.
  • Young, Alison. (2010) 'The Cinema of Disaster: Screening 9/11', in The scene of violence: cinema, crime, affect, Abingdon: Routledge-Cavendish., pp.105-146
  • Joseph Goebbels: 1933-1945,
  • Rollins, Peter C. (1994-2017) 'Frank Capra's Why We Fight Film Series and Our American Dream', in The Journal of American Culture. vol. 19 (4) , pp.81-86
  • Riefenstahl, Leni; Windt, Herbert. (2006) Olympia, Venice, Calif: Pathfinder Pictures.
  • Dargis, Manohla. (1996) 'Leni Riefenstahl, Art and Propaganda', in Imagining reality: the Faber book of the documentary, London: Faber and Faber., pp.129-134
  • Elsaesser, Thomas. (2003-) 'James Cameron's Avatar : access for all', in New Review of Film and Television Studies. vol. 9 (3) , pp.247-264
  • Mann, Klaus. (1973-) 'What's Wrong with Anti-Nazi Films?', in New German Critique. (89) , pp.173-
  • Butter, Michael; Retterath, Lisa. (1970-) 'From Alerting the World to Stabilizing Its Own Community: The Shifting Cultural Work of the Loose Change Films', in Canadian Review of American Studies. vol. 40 (1) , pp.25-44
  • Rodney Ascher. (2012) Room 237.
  • Shaun Walker. (2017-10-14) 'In Russia, nobody's laughing at Iannucci's The Death of Stalin', in Guardian.
  • Morseberger, Robert E. (no date) Adrift in Steinbeck's Lifeboat.
  • Marco Lovisato. (2017) '(Do Not) Overlook. Room 237 and the Dismemberment of The Shining', in Cinergie – Il Cinema e le altre Arti. vol. 6 (12) , pp.127-137
  • Hight, Craig. (2016) 'The mockumentary', in Contemporary documentary, London: Routledge., pp.26-42
  • Bordwell, David. (1993) 'Potemkin', in The cinema of Eisenstein, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press., pp.61-78
  • Katrina Mann. (2004) '"You're Next!": Postwar Hegemony Besieged in Invasion of the Body Snatchers', in Cinema Journal: University of Texas Press. vol. 44 (1) , pp.49-68
  • Mackenzie, Michael. (2003) 'From Athens to Berlin: The 1936 Olympics and Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia', in Critical inquiry, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. vol. 29 (2) , pp.302-336
  • Cavalcanti, Alberto; Banks, Leslie; Greene, Graham. (c2011) Went the day well?, [S.l.]: Studio Canal.
  • Avery, Dylan. (no date) Loose Change 9/11.
  • Maland, Charles J. (c1989) 'The Popular Front: The Great Dictator and the Second Front', in Chaplin and American culture: the evolution of a star image, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press., pp.159-186
  • Weber, Cynthia. (2006-04) '"Fahrenheit 9/11": The Temperature Where Morality Burns', in Journal of American Studies. vol. 40 (1) , pp.113-131
  • Bredella, Lothar. (no date) 'Demonic Germans and Naive American: The Dialectics Between Hetero- and Auto-Stereotypes', in Mediating a Foreign Culture: The United States and Germany: Studies in Intercultural Understanding., pp.108-131
  • Briley, Ron. (2005) 'Fahrenheit 9/11: Michael Moore Heats It Up', in Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies. vol. 35 (2) , pp.11-12
  • Giesen, Rolf. (c2003) 'Triumph of the Will: The Odd Case of Leni Riefenstahl', in Nazi propaganda films: a history and filmography, Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co., pp.18-34
  • Riefenstahl, Leni. (2001) Triumph of the will, England: DD Video.
  • Film Notes -Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
  • Is Avatar radical environmental propaganda? | MNN - Mother Nature Network,
  • Piotrovsky, Adrian. (1994) 'The Battleship Potemkin', in The film factory: Russian and Soviet cinema in documents 1896-1939, Abingdon: Routledge., pp.139-
  • Alfred Hitchcock. (1944) Lifeboat.
  • Sontag, Susan. (c1976-c1985) 'Fascinating Fascism', in Movies and methods: an anthology, Berkeley: University of California Press. vol. 1, pp.31-43
  • (Saturday, 23 Apr 1988) Jew Süss (1934): Channel 4.
  • Shaw, Caitlin. (©2017) 'Cinephilia, History and Adaptation', in The past in visual culture: essays on memory, nostalgia and the media, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
  • Fagelson, William Friedman. (1966-) 'Fighting Films: The Everyday Tactics of World War II Soldiers', in Cinema Journal. vol. 40 (3) , pp.94-112
  • Siegel, Don; McCarthy, Kevin; Finney, Jack. (2007) Invasion of the body snatchers, U.K.: Universal Pictures.
  • Ben Affleck & Matt Damon Tried To Convince Joaquin Phoenix & Casey Affleck To Reveal The Joke Of ‘I’m Still Here’ | IndieWire,
  • (2015) '"Italian Stallion Meets Breaker of Horses": Achilles and Hector in Rocky IV (1985)', in Classical myth on screen, New York: Palgrave Macmillan., pp.206-222
  • Giles, David. (©2018) 'The 2000s: Reality TV and Micro-Celebrity', in Twenty-first century celebrity: fame in digital culture, United Kingdom: Emerald Publishing.
  • O'Connor, John E. (1971-) 'Michael Moore: Cinematic Historian or Propagandist?: Introduction: Historians on Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11', in Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies. vol. 35 (2) , pp.7-7
  • Spielberg, Steven; Field, Sally; Day-Lewis, Daniel. (c2012) Lincoln, [U.K.]: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
  • Kubrick, Stanley; Modine, Matthew; Baldwin, Adam. (2001) Full metal jacket, [London?]: Warner Home Video.
  • Affleck, Casey; Phoenix, Joaquin. (©2010) I'm still here, [U.K.]: Optimum Releasing. vol. 1932
  • Barrow, Sarah. (2017) 'Morality Tales? Visions of the Past in Spielberg's History Plays', in A companion to Steven Spielberg, Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  • Stallone, Sylvester; Shire, Talia. (2007) Rocky IV, California: MGM Home Entertainment.
  • Mackenzie, S. P. (1972-) 'Nazis Into Germans: Went the Day Well? (1942) and The Eagle Has Landed (1976)', in Journal of Popular Film and Television. vol. 31 (2) , pp.83-92
  • Rentschler, Eric. (1996) 'The Elective Other: Jew Süss (1940)', in The ministry of illusion: Nazi cinema and its afterlife, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press., pp.149-169
  • Sabato, Larry J. (c2011) 'Open Season: How the News Media Cover Presidential Campaigns in the Age of Attack Journalism', in Media power in politics, Washington, DC: CQ Press., pp.225-235
  • Chapman, James. (1998) 'A Policy for Film Propaganda / The MOI and Feature Film Propaganda', in The British at war: cinema, state, and propaganda, 1939-1945, London: I.B. Tauris Publishers., pp.41-86
  • Palmer, William J. (©1993) 'From the Evil Empire to Glasnost', in The films of the eighties: a social history, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press., pp.206-222
  • Marmysz, John. (2019) 'Chapter 8: Rooting for the Fascists in Avatar', in Cinematic nihilism: encounters, confrontations, overcomings, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Taylor, Richard. (1998) 'Propaganda and Film', in Film propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, London: I.B.Tauris. vol. Cinema and society, pp.7-17
  • Armando Iannucci. (no date) The Death of Stalin.
  • Nichols, Bill. (c1976-c1985) 'Cinema/Ideology/Criticism', in Movies and methods: an anthology, Berkeley: University of California Press., pp.22-30
  • Salked, Audrey. (1996) 'Olympiad, 1936', in A portrait of Leni Riefenstahl, London: Jonathan Cape., pp.165-186
  • Kenez, Peter. (1985) 'Introduction: The Soviet Concept of Propaganda', in The birth of the propaganda state: Soviet methods of mass mobilization, 1917-1929, New York: Cambridge University Press., pp.1-18
  • Jordan, John W. (2008-06) 'Transcending Hollywood: The Referendum on United 93 as Cinematic Memorial', in Critical Studies in Media Communication. vol. 25 (2) , pp.196-223
  • Dyer, Richard. (2002) 'The Role of Stereotypes', in The matter of images: essays on representations, London: Routledge., pp.11-18
  • Michaud, Gene. (c1990) 'Historical Memory and the Vietnam Era', in From Hanoi to Hollywood: the Vietnam War in American film, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press., pp.19-40

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework Participation marks 5%
Coursework Autumn Historical Writing Exercise (1,000-1,200 words) 01/11/2019 15%
Coursework Autumn: Essay (2,500 - 3,000 words) 13/12/2019 30%
Coursework Presentations slides and write up 20/03/2020 10%
Coursework Spring: Essay 22/04/2020 40%

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Daniel O'Brien
LiFTS General Office - email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

Dr Mikel Koven
Senior Lecturer - Film Studies
Available via Moodle
Of 95 hours, 38 (40%) hours available to students:
57 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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