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Area: World War II Propaganda Films in Britain

2006 Film & History Conference

“The Documentary Tradition”

8-12 November, 2006

Dolce Conference Center – Dallas, TX

Although British cinemas were initially closed in at the beginning of war, Whitehall soon discovered the vital role of films in modern warfare and set up the Ministry of Information (MoI) Films Division in order to coordinate and supervise the use of wartime film propaganda. However, the institution, which was rather hastily set up, was flawed and anything but a great success. Owing to its many difficulties ranging from organizational problems to individual incompetence, it was repeatedly criticized and even dubbed the “Ministry of Dis-Information” and “Ministry of Muddle”. Later, when it overcame these preliminary obstacles it developed into one of Britains most powerful tools in the war: besides newsreels and short films its documentaries were useful for direct and immediate short-term information and instruction. A pivotal achievement of the Films Division was, among other things, its successful campaign against American neutrality by influencing American view on a war they principally knew through British eyes, as historian Nicholas John Cull argues. Moreover, British wartime documentary filmmakers were important for spreading the concept of ‘the people’s war.’

This Area, comprising multiple panels, is a part of the Film and History League’s “The Documentary Tradition” conference. It will take place at Dolce Conference Center – Dallas, TX from 8-12 November 2006. Further details can be found at: It has received queries concerning such topics as the use of black propaganda by the MoI; enemy aliens and the production of wartime documentaries; and the use of combat footage for and newsreel material for propaganda films.

Additional event at the conference include, for example, a special session of film journal editors to talk with participants about publication opportunities and goals chaired by James Welsh, Editor (Emeritus) of the Literature/Film Quarterly. Moreover, a plenary session will be conducted by Betsy McLane, co-author of “A New History of Documentary Film,” a major work in the field of the genre.

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