Communicating with Video: Classic Examples

Battleship Potemkin (73 min.) commemorated the 20th anniversary of the 1905 rebellion of the crew against their Czarist officers at the Port of Odessa. The film was highly successful as a propaganda film to support the young communist revolution of 1917 that had yet to conquer the entire Russian territory. A scene shot on the Odessa Steps is one of the most famous in film history.

View the movie at the Battleship Potemkin page in the Internet Archive. The video should be ENLARGED so that you can see it FULL SCREEN. The video is also rather dark, so you won't see much if you view it in a brightly lighted area.

Triumph of the Will (114 min.) is a documentary of four days in the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremburg. The film was shown in every theater in Germany and won awards in Germany, the US, France, Sweden and more. Besides the technical innovation and artistic treatment, the film projects Germany's return as a great power after its humiliating defeat in World War I and its economic devastation in the Great Depression. It's difficult to imagine today the effect this film had on its 1935 audiences. The film begins, "On September 5, 1934, ... 20 years after the outbreak of the World War ... 16 years after the beginning of our suffering ... 19 months after the beginning of the German renaissance ... Adolf Hitler flew again to Nuremberg to review the columns of his faithful followers…"

View the famous (and infamous) film without commercials at the Internet Archive at (view at full screen size): or on YouTube with commercials at: The Internet Archive automatically shows English subtitles (you NEED these). The YouTube version film may be of higher quality, but you MUST TURN ON Closed Captioning (CC button). Place yourself as a German citizen of a once-proud nation who has know only hardship for twenty years. If you take time to view the whole film at one sitting, you'll gain a glimpse of the power of a film that may have changed the course of history.



The camera cannot lie. But it can be an accessory to untruth.
-- Harold Evans, British Journalist (source unknown)

Commmunicating With Video

Early movie directors had primitive equipment, low budgets, untrained actors and cameramen, and no precedents. In spite of these obstacles, some of them created works so dramatic that they move audiences today. From these masters, today's teachers and students can learn how to build a strong story, the importance of lighting, expression, and the power of a musical score.

Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 film Battleship Potemkin is regarded as one of the most important in the history of silent films. The film not only broke new technical ground but also focused the power of video toward the propaganda needs of Russia's new young communist government.

Leni Riefenstahl is the considered to be the greatest female film producer of the 20th century. Film scholar Mark Cousins ranks her as one of the great film makers of her era. In his book The Story of Film, he suggests, "Next to Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, Leni Riefenstahl was the most technically talented Western film maker of her era." After World War II, she was blacklisted for decades because of her propaganda support for Nazi Germany.

But film is more than technique. A compelling story in film can do more than entertain or inform. It can change minds. It can change or reinforce personal identities with beliefs or causes. Both Eisenstein and Reifenstahl's films supported young governments or movements with a powerful appeal to justice, pride, and hope. We can call these films propaganda because they promoted governments with values we may abhor. Regardless of how palatable their message is today, their message spoke powerfully enough to their audiences in their time to affect the history of peoples and nations. As educators we and our students need to be aware of the power of a story told with video. This message is that the medium is powerful, and that this power does not reside in special effects or clever dialog, but rather the simple, effective telling of a powerful story.


Classic film directors changed technology and history.

Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) in the 1920's

Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2002) in the 1930's