The Second World War on Film

This four-week introductory course explores various kinds of wartime filmmaking, including documentary, newsreel, drama and comedy. Through analysing key films and their associated artistic movements and cultural contexts, Dr Julia Wagner explores how contemporary attitudes were shaped and reflected by film.

Start

September 29, 2021 - 6.30 pm

End

October 27, 2021 - 7.15 pm

We regret that due to unavoidable circumstances we have had to postpone this course to later in 2021 – we will confirm as soon as possible when it will be held. 

To register your interest, please email book@sirmartingilbertlearningcentre.org

The events of World War II have since inspired countless films, but how did filmmaking in the 1940’s inform, influence and persuade audiences during the war years?

This four-week introductory course explores various kinds of wartime filmmaking, including documentary, newsreel, drama and comedy. Through analysing key films and their associated artistic movements and cultural contexts immediately before, after and during the war years, we can see how contemporary attitudes were shaped and reflected by film.

Each session will focus on a different kind of filmmaking, and lectures will involve detailed film analysis, wider cultural and political contextualisation, and discussion. Details below.

Recommended films are all available to view online in the UK, either free or to rent for under £5.00 Selected reading material will also be distributed in advance of the lectures.

Time: 6.30 – 7.45pm (London)
Cost: £60 for the course (we are unable to take bookings for individual sessions)
Venue: Online

Dr Julia Ruth Wagner is a London based lecturer and writer specialising in film and television.  She holds a PHD in Film Studies (UCL) and an MA in Italian Studies (University of Edinburgh) She lectures widely, teaching Film Studies courses for adults and presenting research at cultural centres and international conferences.  Julia’s writing has been published by the British Film Institute, Sight and Sound, The Jewish Chronicle and Jewish Quarterly journal.  She curated Jewish Britain on Film, a JW3/BFI funded archive project, and contributed to the British Film Institute’s Fellini Centenary season in 2020.  Julia regularly hosts Q& As with filmmakers and is passionate about film education and public engagement.  During the Coronavirus lockdown period, hundreds of international participants have attended Julia’s online lectures. More of Julia’s work can be found on her website website www.juliawagnerfilm.com and by following her @jrwagz.

Course outline

Week 1. Documentary and Propaganda

The first session explores the United States Department of War’s epic documentary series, Why We Fight, initially made to educate and persuade soldiers as they entered war. Directed mostly by Frank Capra (who went on to direct Hollywood hits including It’s a Wonderful Life), the seven-part series was distributed to the public, with an estimated 54 million Americans viewing the films in the war years. This lecture asks how the style and content of the documentary responds to Nazi propaganda films, analysing the emotive and persuasive techniques employed to inform and persuade viewers.

Recommended viewing:

Why We Fight: Prelude to War (dir. Frank Capra, USA, 1942)

Week 2. Newsreel and British documentary

In the UK, Government sponsored films proliferated, reaching out to update and inform the public, encouraging the war effort. Building on the British Documentary Movement that developed in the 1930s, documentary filmmakers were employed to cover the impact of war on British society. Today, the British Film Institute’s BFIPlayer offers a vast collection of newly digitised footage, enabling immersion into the styles and attitudes of wartime filmmaking. This lecture delves into the online archive, asking how patriotism and notions of British sentiment are played out on screen, exploring the narrative and documentary techniques evident in the films.

Recommended viewing:

London Can Take It! (dir. Harry Watt and Humphrey Jennings, UK, 1940. 9 minutes)

Victory Parade (prod. Colonial Film Unit, UK, 1946. 21 minutes)

Week 3. Dramatic Innovations in Italian Neorealism
Italian neorealism emerged in the immediate aftermath of the tumultuous war years, despite the country’s devastation and scarcity of filmmaking resources. Through considering the specificity of Italian filmmaking in the 1940s, this lecture asks how film reflects the political and artistic shifts from Fascism to the 1943 Allied Invasion – and the necessity to make emotionally powerful dramatic films in almost impossible circumstances.

Recommended viewing:

Rome Open City (dir. Roberto Rossellini, Italy, 1945)

Week 4. Drama and Comedy: How effectively can war be dramatised?

As in pre-war years, cinema continued to be a place of entertainment and escape through World War II. Film production included thrillers, romance and comedy, offer differing perspectives on the ways in which society at war can be presented. This lecture examines how genre conventions heighten audience engagement and response, analysing the effectiveness of dramatic tension and comedy for emotional expression.

Recommended viewing:
The Great Dictator (dir. Charlie Chaplin, 1940)

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Please note that if minimum course numbers are not reached, we reserve the right to cancel or reschedule the course and will offer a full refund.

CONTACT

Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre

Address 32 Hampstead High Street, London, NW3 1QD
Email book@sirmartingilbertlearningcentre.org


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