What is fascinating about the new doc on propaganda called PROPAGANDA: THE ART OF SELLING LIES which had its premiere at this year’s HOT DOCS, is the way director Larry Weinstein uses the concepts populated in his film to get his message across. Weinstein is bold enough to also call his film a cautionary tale and a call to action.
In a way, it is a sure safe way of making a doc on any subject. The film opens with the letters of the word ‘Propaganda’ flashed on the screen – not once but a few times, as verbalized by President Trump in one scene in the film: “Repeat for the truth to sink in.” It is intriguing to note that the word ‘truth’ is in the line implying that what is said is the truth, which is of course, might not be so. Propaganda goes by various definitions as the film informs at the start. The first definition given is ‘political brainwashing’ followed by others before Weinstein goes into the origin of the word – in Latin.
One wonders often at the odd choice of interviewees Weinstein has chosen, as it seems quite the eclectic assortment. One is Paolo Granata, apparently a professor of Media Studies and another Alistair Pike an archaeologist. There is a segment dealing with a ancient art carved in a Spanish cave which could be the reason the Spanish and the archaeologist being chosen. But propaganda and entertainment come together with the segment of Jim Fitzpatrick an Irish artist who sketched an outline easy-to-copy figure of Che Guevara after Che visited him in a bar in Ireland where he was a barman. Che was killed and his body gutted of blood like an animal. As a result, Fitzpatrick popularized Che with the figure he designed and drew that is now famous all the world over. This is another example of propaganda. On the plus side, the most interesting interviewees include a staff at Charlie Hebdo (the French satirical newspaper targeted by Muslim terrorists) and the photographer who took the controversial picture of Kathy Griffin holding President Trump’s severed head.
The film stresses that propaganda is most used in print, posters and cinema. Weinstein provides lots of clips of old propaganda films like the most famous of all films – the Nazi propaganda 1935 film Leni Riefenstahl’s masterful TRIUMPH OF THE WILL to illustrate the fact. My fav propaganda film of all is the the British 1942 entry Alberto Cavalcanti’s WENT THE DAY WELL? where British housewives during WWII did away with hysterical relish the German invaders of their village who were disguised as British soldiers.
Though entertaining, the doc sheds little light on what we do not already know. The film does bring a lot of facts together, as emphasized during the film’s conclusion. The film is also quick to point out the propaganda could also be sued for good, as in the British propaganda films to run up loyalty. Ironically, the film is after all also propaganda about propaganda.