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Politics Through Film Introduction to Political Films Overview Definition Typology Film Production, Techniques, and Politics Filmmaking Process Writing Direction/Editing Acting Production/Distribution Definition What makes for a political film?

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politics through film

Politics Through Film

Introduction to Political Films

overview
Overview
  • Definition
  • Typology
  • Film Production, Techniques, and Politics
    • Filmmaking Process
    • Writing
    • Direction/Editing
    • Acting
    • Production/Distribution
definition
Definition
  • What makes for a political film?
  • What do we mean by studying politics through film?
political films
Political Films
  • Academic Political Science has not fully integrated film studies into its study of politics
  • Indeed, popular culture and media studies in general have been given relatively short shrift from the political science academy until relatively recently
political films5
Political Films
  • The dominant methodological approach has been behavioralism
  • Difficulty in determining whether movies are an independent or dependent variable (that is, do movies inform public opinion, or does public opinion inform movies?)
political films6
Political Films
  • Most definitions of political films focus on content
  • That is, a film is political if it focuses on political content
  • But what constitutes political content?
political films7
Political Films
  • But note, our idea of “political” is so broad that almost any film could, by definition, be considered political
  • If we confine ourselves to a narrow definition of politics -- the institutions, political actors, political processes, etc. -- then we end up with a relatively short list of political films
political films8
Political Films
  • We might lose films that have important political meaning and significance....
political films9
Political Films
  • Or include films that aren’t political beyond setting
political films10
Political Films
  • Christenson and Haas (2005) identify four reasons why we do not have a clearly defined genre* of political film

*by genre, we mean a category or group of films with the same subject or same style -- westerns, musicals, science fiction, horror, etc. In general, films in the same genre tend to have similar look and conventions

political films11
Political Films
  • Political films lack the consistency of other film genres
  • Political films do not share as many conventions of plot and character
  • Much variation/hybridization which is indicative of lack of cohesion (political comedy, political thriller, political documentary, etc.)
  • Film industry willfully avoids “political” label
political films12
Political Films
  • So if we can’t use content to define political film, what about political message?
  • That is, can we define political films based on ideology?
  • Gender, race, class, political orientation, all of these can be gleaned from films that focus on non-political content
political films13
Political Films
  • Of course, this approach raises the question of how to determine the political message of a movie
  • Moviemaking, as we will see, is a collaborative enterprise
  • Do we focus on director? writer? producer? actors?
  • Whose intentions determine the ideology or message of the movie?
political films14
Political Films
  • Perhaps the best way to proceed is by combining elements of both approaches and developing a “typology” of film
  • Not all films will fit, indeed most films won’t fit, into any neat categorization scheme
typology of political films
Typology of Political Films

Political Content

Political Intent

Political Intent

Political Content

typology of political films16
Typology of Political Films

Politically reflective movies

Political Content

Examples:

Independence DayInvasion of the Body SnatchersMany legal thrillers, westerns,

gangster films

Political Intent

Political Intent

Political Content

typology of political films17
Typology of Political Films

Politically reflective movies

Political Content

Examples:

Pretty Woman

Gone With The Wind

many other genre films

Political Intent

Political Intent

Socially reflective movies

Political Content

typology of political films18
Typology of Political Films

Politically reflective movies

Purepoliticalmovies

Political Content

Examples:

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

The Candidate

Propaganda FilmsDocumentaries

Political Intent

Political Intent

Socially reflective movies

Political Content

typology of political films19
Typology of Political Films

Purepoliticalmovies

Politically reflective movies

Political Content

Examples:

The Godfather

Natural Born Killers

Political Intent

Political Intent

Auteurpoliticalmovies

Socially reflective movies

Political Content

political films20
Political Films
  • Finding the “political” in political movies is a relatively straightforward task
  • Finding the “political” in ostensibly “non political” movies is a bit trickier, and one of the objectives for our course will be attempting to hone your analytical skills in this area
political films21
Political Films
  • We can expect to find political content in even “non political” films since filmmaking is, at its heart, a money making enterprise
  • Profit means selling tickets, and to reach those ticket buyers all movies need to at least tap into some cultural wellspring of ideas, beliefs, and attitudes
impact of political films
Impact of Political Films
  • Contribute to general social and political education (socialization)
  • Provide information and/or orientation to specific issues/events
  • Affect specific political behavior (e.g., voting)
  • Affect the knowledge and behavior of specific groups (especially political elites)
  • Spark public debate and/or other media interest in specific issues
filmmaking process
Filmmaking Process
  • Creating a film is a costly, time consuming process
  • Helpful to sketch out the basic steps in that process*

*note, this is an idealized account, and some steps may precede others, or be omitted, in the “real world”

conception
Conception
  • The basic idea to make a film about something
  • As a rough guide, smaller films that are more closely the product of a single person’s vision tend to have more overt political content and intentional political message than studio “collaborative” projects
production
Production
  • Producers/production includes a variety of activities and decisions early in the process, including but not limited to:
    • identifying and hiring creative talent (director, screenwriter, cinematographer, costumer, art director, casting director, editor, stars, etc.)
    • assist in addressing the practical challenges to moviemaking that arise during filming
    • serving as liaison or point person with studio
  • But main responsibility is to ensure the financial viability of the project
production26
Production
  • Note, the vast majority of films in production receive no government funding, so finances are key consideration
  • Cost of feature films has increased dramatically over the years, and costs of failure are thus more acute than ever before
  • These profit making considerations will push producers in specific directions; namely to find a large enough audience to make a profit
production27
Production
  • Not necessarily ideologically, but rather in terms of the kinds of political content that will be addressed
  • Unlikely will find coverage of unsettled political controversy, particularly if the controversy divides the public in roughly equal and large blocs
  • More likely find films geared to the largest audience (which of course, means tweens, teens or young adults)
screenplay story
Screenplay/Story
  • Screenplay develops the basic subject matter, characters, and plotting of the movie
  • Obviously, this is one area where both political content and message can be introduced into a film
  • Yet bear in mind the financial considerations mentioned above
subject matter genre
Subject Matter/Genre
  • As noted above, “genre” refers to a group of films with conventional settings, characters, and plots
movie conventions
Movie Conventions

Movies, regardless of genre, tend to follow conventions to which audiences have become accustomed, including:

  • Personalization (politics tends to be addressed through individuals rather than groups)
movie conventions31
Movie Conventions
  • Sugarcoating (political content tends to be covered with content from other genres -- romance, thriller, etc)
  • Ambiguity (political content is rarely specific enough in identifying things like party labels, interest group affiliation, etc.
  • Ambivalence (political content is diluted by attempts to give “both sides” to a story
direction
Direction
  • In general, the director is the single most important contributor to a movie’s final product and final artistic impact
    • Responsibilities include, directing actors, but also determining the visual and aural aspects of a movie and other decisions relative to the artistic vision for the project
cinematography
Cinematography
  • Refers to the “photography” of movies; that is getting the action down on film
    • lighting, color, camera angles and placement, set selection and creation
  • In our study, watch how lighting and camera angles can be used to influence our political attitudes