Socialism on Film

The Cold War and International Propaganda

Look behind the iron curtain with this collection of films from the communist world.

Outstanding Academic Title
Choice Reviews, 2017

Sourced from the British Film Institute (BFI), Socialism on Film documents the communist world, from the Russian Revolution to the end of the Cold War. This unique collection of documentary films, features and newsreels reveals all aspects of life behind the Iron Curtain, as seen by filmmakers from the USSR, Vietnam, Cuba, China, East Germany, Eastern Europe and more.

Providing a counterpoint to Western perceptions of communist states and their actions, the films illuminate how socialist countries saw themselves and the world around them during the major political and social events of the twentieth century. The footage was originally sourced from communist states, then versioned into English language for private distribution in Britain and the West.

This is the largest film collection of its kind to survive in Western Europe. The films have been conserved, digitised from the original 16mm and 35mm reels, and are fully transcribed and searchable.

Modules include:

Module I: Wars & Revolutions

This module explores many of the conflicts, tensions and uprisings of the twentieth century from the unique perspective of socialist filmmakers around the globe.

Comprised of nine sub-categories –  including Lenin & the Russian Revolution, Nuclear War & Peace Movements, The Second World War & the Rise of Fascism, and Revolution, War, Conflict in China & Korea – this module turns a lens on political upheaval across Europe, Asia and Central America, digitising rare footage which relates to the Vietnam War, the Cuban Revolution, nuclear weapons and growing demands for peace.

Module II: Newsreels & Magazines

Containing nearly 1,000 individual titles, Module II focuses predominantly on newsreel series including 10 Minutes Around the USSR, China Today, GDR Magazine, Czechoslovak Life and Soviet Sport.

Produced across the communist world, the majority of these films follow a short magazine format and present a curated ideal of the political, social and economic developments experienced daily by citizens, both young and old. A sub-collection dedicated to Diplomatic & Political Newsreels is particularly fascinating, shedding light on Cold War alliances and summits.  

Module III: Culture & Society

Module III touches on themes including the arts, sport, work, and youth and education, providing Western audiences with an unparalleled insight into life behind the Iron Curtain.

These propaganda films encompass a broad range of content, which focus on healthcare and tourism, women’s work, environmentalism and education. Module highlights include footage shot in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, documentaries on the Space Race, and films which aim to present Soviet power as a modernising force for women’s rights.

Key Data

Period Covered

  • Early twentieth century to the 1980s

Highlights

  • Watch first hand the Soviet fears on President Reagan’s Star Wars defence initiative
  • Operation Teutonic Sword is an East German documentary film examining and exposing figures of authority in the FDR. It was banned from general release in Britain due to its allegations about NATO general Hans Speidel
  • Lenin and the progress of the Russian Revolution are memorialised in the titles including Lenin is Always With Us
  • The Vietnamese perspective on the war with the US is shown in titles such as War as We Saw It and the Pilots in Pyjamas series
  • Science documentaries like Attention Weightlessness discuss Soviet space exploration and cosmonaut training
  • Second World War documentaries such as Feat of Moscow and feature films like On the Way to Berlin reveal the way in which the Soviets remember their war and its significance to their present
  • Featuring Latin America, Island Ablaze looks at the Cuban Revolution and its benefits and Compañero: Victor Jara of Chile is a BAFTA nominated film about the folk singer and the aftermath of the Chilean coup of 1973
  • Chinese cultural endeavours are showcased in documentaries such as Actors in the Making and the Peking Variety Artists

Source Archive

  • The British Film Institute (BFI)

Material Types

  • The collection consists of digitised film from 16mm and 35mm reels. The genres include documentaries, newsreels and feature films.

Editorial Board

  • Alan Burton, Leicester University
  • Mark Philip Bradley, University of Chicago
  • Nicholas Cull, University of Southern California
  • Jo Fox, University of Durham
  • Matthew Johnson, Taylor’s University, Malaysia
  • Peter Kenez, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Nicholas Pronay, University of Leeds
  • Graham Roberts, Leeds Trinity University
  • Alan Welch, University of Kent
  • Denise Youngblood, University of Vermont

Subjects

  • 20th Century Global History
  • Politics and Economics
  • Propaganda Studies
  • Communist Studies
  • Film, Media and Communication Studies
  • International Relations
  • Diplomacy
  • War and Military Studies

Key Features

  • Video chronology
  • Searchable map
  • Academic interviews on video
  • Contextual essays

Reviews

Highly recommended. Undergraduates through professionals/practitioners

Geographically, most of the films offered here are from or about the former Soviet Union, although there are also a substantial number from Vietnam, China, Latin America, and the former ......

Supporting Material

Usage Case Studies

Socialism on Film at the University of Iowa - HIST 1010:0008: History Matters – The Russian Revolution of 1917

Dr Michael Zmolek, the lecturer running the course, had not previously taught using films from an archive as primary source materials. However, the films in Socialism on Film provided an opportunity for ...... View full case study