By Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen
In order to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, the EFG1914 project was launched by the European Film Gateway to digitise and bring together films and film-related materials from 21 European film archives in an online portal accessible to everybody. The partners of EFG1914 have compiled material from all kinds of media sources spanning the period of the First World War: film-related material such as posters and photographs, as well as newsreels, documentaries and fiction films.
A selection of these items can be found in the virtual exhibition of the project with one section dedicated to the topic ‘Advertising the War’. The films under this heading aimed to influence the attitude of the community in favour of their country’s participation in the war. Some films which exemplify this notion are “Befana di guerra” (Italy, 1915).
Their common aim is to encourage the spectator to support the war effort by buying war bonds. These films manipulate the emotions of the spectator by stressing the notion of a ‘duty’ to one’s country to which everybody should want to commit. This emotional manipulation is further noted in films such as “Resistere!” (Italy, 1918) which also stresses the importance of war bonds but aims primarily to encourage young men to join the army and fight for the glory of their fatherland. Once again the spectator is made to feel as though agreeing with the ideas in the film is the right and dutiful thing to do, and any other opinion is betrayal of the country.
Propaganda uses strong and loaded language to elicit an emotional response in the spectator. “Das Säugetier” (Germany, 1916) is one very good example of this. This film was made by Union Film GmbH in the middle of the First World War to keep German spirits up and to remind the German public of their reasons for fighting. This aim is achieved by the use of emotive language which portrays Britain as a greedy and acquisitive octopus whose exploitation of others must be stopped. The same words that would be used to describe a parasite, feeding on far-off small countries, are used about Britain.
It is clear that in all of these films the war is presented in a very one-sided and biased way for a political end. What is most interesting about these films is the way that film itself was obviously beginning to establish itself as a kind of warfare against the enemy. The start of World War One was the first time that cinema and film had been used as a propaganda tool on a wide scale, but it is clear that this initial realisation that film had the ability to distort reality and manipulate the emotions of the spectator was something which would continue and develop into a far greater phenomenon throughout the 20th Century.
Befana: copyright: Cineteca di Bologna
Empire: copyright: Imperial War Museums
Groschen: copyright: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv
Resistere: copyright: Fondazione Cineteca Italiana
Saugetier: copyright: Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen