Blanc SHS 3 - Blanc - SHS 3 - Cultures, arts, civilisations

Cinema in the Soviet Union at war, 1939-1949 – CINESOV





Submission summary

There can be no doubt that the cinema played an all-important role during WWII and its aftermath both as mobilizing force and as the prime medium for narrating the conflict. Yet our knowledge about ways it did in different national contexts varies by country. The film indus-tries of Hollywood, Britain, France, Germany and Italy have already been studied. There is a body of research about organizational and economic aspects of the production as well as about the products themselves and about patterns of their distribution and reception. This is by far not the case for Soviet war films, despite some progress made lately.
The present research project proposes to go way farther than studies on a couple of feature films uniformly quoted by authors. It proposes work on an incomparably larger choice which includes documentaries, newsreels and cartoons in order to explore a crucial moment in the development of one of the most important creative cultures of film history. In addition, the task is to explore the place of the cinema in a propaganda system usually described as totali-tarian and study a pivotal period of the Soviet past whose new historiography enlarges our vi-sion.
A special objective of the project is to associate political and film history whereby re-search in archives of written documents and film archives must be of equal importance. The aim is to identify industrial, commercial, cultural and social processes which add up to an in-tricate system of production, distribution and reception of imageries in a huge and multidi-mensional Soviet territory. The analysis of pictures must be founded on a deep knowledge of the contexts in which they were elaborated.
A precondition of this work is a full inventory of wartime films and films of the im-mediate postwar years which codified the narrative about the victory. This inventory is indis-pensable for making international comparisons. It will go hand in hand with a detailed analy-sis of cinematographic policies and their economic and social implications. The study of pol-icy making and censorship is only one aspect of the work. It is equally necessary to study stu-dios and professionals mobilized to convey a vision of the ongoing conflict for a varied public on the front and in the rear, for the troops as well as for civilians and officials.
True core of the research program, this typology and institutional study are indispen-sable for a meaningful analysis of cinematic imageries in terms of narrative techniques, the portrayal of a society engulfed by war and the representation of death. The time of emergency stimulated inventiveness, renewed genres and heightened interactions between newsreels filmed at the front and documentaries edited or feature films created in studios far removed from the combat zone. Filmic representation of social ostracism and Soviet heroism tested in the 1930s more or less harmonized with the fortunes of a war starting with defeat end ending triumphantly.
The exceptional war human losses and the specificity of the fate of Jews had its par-ticularities in the Soviet context. It influenced the political and cinematographic treatment of “atrocities” committed by the enemy and of the Holocaust. Their depiction made part of propaganda wars the project intends to explore in relation to their impact both on national and international audiences.
The reappraisal of the role of the Russian people in universal and Soviet history was a central concern necessitating careful organization of the diffusion of pictures and the condi-tioning of the reception by the public at home and abroad. However, at the end of the war, in-troducing looted foreign films on a Soviet market closed for a decade impeded an ubiquitous propaganda to achieve its planned goals. Thus the project foresees an entangled history of the stakes Nazi spoliations in Europe, then Soviet pillages of production assets and other booties (including motion pictures) represented for the film industries.

Project coordination

Valérie POZNER (Atelier de recherche sur l'intermédialité et les arts du spectacle) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


ARIAS Atelier de recherche sur l'intermédialité et les arts du spectacle
ARCHE Arts, Civilisation et Histoire de l'Europe

Help of the ANR 235,560 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2012 - 36 Months

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