Gulnar Salimova

Tools and Techniques That Used in Visual Propaganda of Dictators in Different Nations and Time Periods



Supervisor, Ekaterina Basilaia



1. Introduction ………………………………………………………………………1

2. Literature review ………………………………………………………………... 3

   2.1. Theory of propaganda …………………………………………………………….. 3

  2.2. The history of documentary ……………………………………………………….. 4

  2.3 Propaganda in documentary films ………………………………………………... 5

  2.4 Non-fiction film ……………………………………………………………………… 5

3. Research questions ……………………………………………………………….7

4. Research methodology …………………………………………………………...8

5. Findings …………………………………………………………………………. 10

6. Conclusion ………………………………………………………………….. …..15

7. Reference …………………………………………………………………………17




Visual images have become key elements in print and digital journalism, and, in general, in the digital communication era. Sometimes, what cannot be told with words, can be shown through visual language -, for example, photographic images. But an image can also be used as a strong tool to propagate certain ideas in order to influence to society. It is why visual images have become cornerstones of propaganda campaigns.

One of the definitions of propaganda is the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person (Manzaria&Brook).

One can see propaganda, listen to it and read it almost everywhere. Propaganda is aimed at reaching its direct goals via pictures, drawings, graphs or even songs. Nowadays propaganda uses all the media opportunities, like press, radio, television, film, posters, billboards, speeches, flags, street names, monuments, books, music, sporting, cultural events, and even awards and prizes. (

Visual content has no different languages, there are no obstacles to reach audiences, because everything is in front of the eyes of the audience. The importance of this research lies in the fact that today, in the era of technology, propagandistic information can approach people in a second. Since visual content is the easiest way to approach it, visual content becomes the strongest tool in propagating certain aims. This research has practical implications as it can provide recommendations to the journalism education programs and editorial councils.

The purpose of this research is to find out the common and different techniques used in visual propaganda of the dictators like Adolf Hitler’s and Heydar Aliyev’s ruling times and afterwards via documentary films.

As a short introduction we should point out that the first propagandistic film “The Triumph of the Will” has been filmed in 1934.  



In the following chapter, the reader will find an overview of how propaganda can influence the society by visual manipulations.



Literature Review


Theory of Propaganda


“Propaganda has become identified with acts intended to change, destabilize, or subvert other countries' political, social, and economic systems by use of the mass media. The information that comes to be categorized as propaganda depends upon the political and social philosophies or ideologies involved,” states Powell. (Powell, p.1, 1982)

Propaganda can be concealed or open, emotional or containing appeals to reason, or a combination of emotional and logical appeals (

“Propaganda is the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols. The word attitude is taken to mean a tendency to act according to certain patterns of valuation. The existence of an attitude is not a direct datum of experience, but an inference from signs which have a conventionalized significance,” writes Harold D. Lasswell in “The Theory of Political Propaganda.” (Lasswell, Vol. 42, No. 2 (June): pp. 385-86, 1927).

Talking about the political propaganda Durham&Kellner (2009) pay attention to a very important issue – propagandistic issues where the state bureaucracy rules:“It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent. This is espechially true where the media actively compete, periodically attack and expose corporate and governmental malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for freee spech and the general community interest,” stat the scholars (p.257)

Propaganda can be analyzing in detail in ten stages. ( Jowett & O'Donnell, 2005) These stages are: 1) the ideology and purpose of the propaganda campaign, 2) the context in which the propaganda occurs, 3) identification of the propagandist, 4) the



structure of the propaganda organization, 5) the target audience, 6) media utilization techniques, 7) various other special techniques, 8) audience reaction to various techniques, 9) counter propaganda, if present, and 10) effects and evaluation. (p.270)

It can be shown in a positive way as well as negative ways (Baran & Dav1is, 2012).

The scholar ( Jowett & O’Donnel, 1986) point out that, there are three types of propaganda: white propaganda, black and grey propaganda. But all of them are used for manipulating people's minds and to change their attitude toward different things. (p.213)

In white propaganda (Linebarger, 1954) clearly shows the original source of information. Gray propaganda is not indicate the source of information and its accuracy is doubtful. Black propaganda hides the authenticity of its information. Usually information comes by an opposing institution and made to look as it came from a friendly source. (p.44)

Propaganda can use many tools, including visual tools, which are very effective in influencing people's’ attitudes.


The history of documentary


The history of documentary film begins from 1922. The very first documentary film is about the exotic life of Eskimo named Nanook. Patricia Aufderhaide (2007) stated that the documentary film can be a trip to exotic lands, it can be like a poem, and it also can be an artful piece of propaganda. (ch,1, p.1) Aufderhaide (2007) stressed that documentary film is not real life, it is about real life; they are portraits of real life. (ch.1, p.2) Rosenthal and Corner (2005) point out that documentary shows a body of media work with a prominent history and the diversity in current practice. (p.1)

Aufderhaide in her book “Elements of Documentary” (2007) also talks about the manipulation in this field. According to Aufderhaide (2007), that it is not possible



make a film without any manipulation. The author (2007) states that manipulation even start from the very beginning - the selection of the topic for documentary film: “Selection of topic, editing, mixing sound are all manipulating.” (ch.1, p.2)


Propaganda in documentary films


Before television and Internet  were introduced film was an important visual tool that could affect to society. The first film (Goldstein, 2009) has beenwas shot in 1895. The film was about the daily life, and it was accepted by the audience with great enthusiasm. The film that was produced by Auguste and Louis Lumiere allowed people to see the same things that happen to them somewhere else. After this success nonfiction film was used as a tool not only for entertainment and education, but also as a tool of propaganda. (ch.2, p.42)

Aufderhaide (2007) points out that, comprehension of the documentary film  depends on the experience of filmmakers – business and marketing pressures, technological innovations, and etc. Representation and reality – are the most important elements on which the nonfiction film consist on. “Their makers manipulate and distort reality like all filmmakers, but they still make a claim for making a truthful representation of reality,” says the scholar. (p.9)


Nonfiction film


“Voice over, characters, talking heads, natural sound, music” is the approximate or general idea of nonfiction film for most people. Aufderhaide states (2007), that this kind of combination of usual elements in documentary do not impress the people so much. “ include sound, images, special effects (audio and video including animation and pacing (number of cuts, script or storytelling structure),” writes the




author (p.10) The way of structuring the film is also included in the set of decisions that make filmmakers while working on a nonfiction film.

Nicholas Reeves (Aufderhaide, 2007) points out that propaganda in documentary films is not so effective. One of the simpliest reason for this is that  documentary films usually are shown in nontheatretical screenings and the audience there is very small. Reeves’s concludes on that not a single documentary film has not succeeded ion changing the mind of public. He claims that it can set the agenda, create some expectations, but cannot change the opinion of the society. (p.71) “Triupmh of the Will could be used by so many for counterpropaganda so effectiveley because its command over the viewer is imperial; it became a visual demonstration of the will to conquer and crush,” asserts the author. (p.73) The scholar (Aufderhaide) claims that “Triumph of The Will” because of the small audience ran only for a week. Bad luck of the documentary was because of the unsuccesfull economic news and the alarm over Nazi anti-Semitic extremism: “The achievment of “Triumph of the Will” may have been at a deeper level not reflected in polls; it associated the newcomer Nazis with deep cultural and historical traditions.” (p.71)

Several scholar claim that public do not easily surrender to propaganda when they can recognize it.



Research questions


One of the elements that we will focus on is the way that documentary represent its main character. Except the main characters of the documentary, the whole visual content, natural sounds, music, and technical methods are as well also have to be explored. Thus we ask the following question:

RQ1: Which technical methods are used in order to portray the political leaders in documentary movies as the propagandist tools?

It is obvious that in propagandist nonfiction films the symbols play significant roles. Due to the fact that we want to explore the symbols that propagate the ideology of the ruling dictators in different periods we want to ask the next research question:

RQ2: Which patriotic and nationalistic symbols are used in movies, documentary movies?

If to take into consideration that in this research paper will be explored propaganda tools in documentary films which have been shot in different time periods, then we can ask the following question on the tools that are used nowadays and to find out the main common and different tools:

RQ3: What new tools are used in visual propaganda of the modern-day dictators as Heydar Aliyev?

RQ4: Despite the difference in nationalities of these dictators what areis main common and different tools in visual propaganda?


Research Methodology


Exploration of the documentary film needs in-depth research. Thus, (Patton, 2005) qualitative research also is focused on in-depth analysis of samples, it can be even one sample, case, which used to be chosen on purpose of the researcher. (p.2)  In order to explore this topic and do conclusions on it there has to be the qualitative content analysis. For this research paper have been chosen the documentaries that is written below.

For the analysis we select the documentary films “Triumph of the Will” which has been shot in 1934 and dedicated to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and the documentary films which were dedicated to Heydar Aliyev, deceased Azerbaijani dictator president - “Heydar Aliyev – Destiny” (2000), “Heydar Aliyev – Genius” (2003),  “Heydar Aliyev – Thinking about the future” (2011), and “Heydar Aliyev – The State” 2011. Mentioned last documentary films have been shot in Azerbaijan during 2000-2011.

It should be noted that the selection of the documentaries for this research includes following points: a) “Triumph of the Will” is the first propagandist documentary film, which includes several technical tools that had been used during the shootings; b) for this research this film is the fundamental case which should be analyzed in-depth; c) except the propagandist non-fiction film, The Triumph also accepted as a masterpiece in worldwide, the film that was awarded several awards in non-fiction film industry.

In order to compare old and new propagandist non-fiction films, as a sample of modern documentary film we chose several documentary films that dedicated to Heydar Aliyev, deceased president of post-Soviet country, Republic of Azerbaijan. The first of all, the reason of selection for several documentary films about him, is that the duration of The Triumph is about 3 hours, but one  film about H.Aliyev lasts maximum 45-50 minutes. In order to make in-depth research we chose four documentary films about Aliyev.




It is obvious that chosen pieces indicates huge differences of time, period, leaders, especially leaders. On of them, Adolf Hitler wanted to rule the world, the second one, Heydar Aliyev wanted to keep the power in his hands till the end of his life. In detailed analysis of the documentaries that we will discuss, we will see how they have been propagate, in order to show their greatness as a leader of the nation.  

This approach will allow us to develop our topic in this research paper. It will allow us to do analysis of the archive pictures videos that have been used here and find out the technical tools that used during the shootings in the mentioned films have been shot.

The prosedure of analysis will be following: the first of all mentioned nonfiction films will be analyzed, later in the “Discussion” part of this research paper we will  describe the common and distinctive visual propagandist elements used in these films.





“Triumph of the Will”


The films starts with the sound of a patriotic march and the introductory title reads: “20 years after outbreak of World War I… 16 years after the outbreak of German grief… 19 years after the beginning of the German revival...”

The film takes place in Nuremberg, Germany on September of 1934, the place where 6th annual meeting of National Socialists Workers Party of Germany. It also should be underlined that this film shot by the personal order of the Fuhrer.

“Triumph of the Will” has been shot in apotheosis genre, which means deification, glorification and exaltation of a person, events or phenomena.

From the very beginning we can see the flag – one of the symbols of National Socialists Workers Party – that appears from the scattered clouds. Morning, the sky, the clouds, the mountains, an eagle, a plane and the god – the Fuhrer comes out of the plane. The Fuhrer condescends to the German people, where he is greeted with “Heil, Hitler!” greeting by  crowd.

Every single moment in the documentary “Triumph of the Will” Hitler is surrounded by people , his followers, supporters – the members of the party, youth, children, it other words the picture represent him as a father of the nation.

The scholar Karthik Narayanswami points out (2011) that Nazi propaganda consisted on three dominant themes: a) deification of Hitler (e.g. as a messianic figure to be followed); b) determining the enemy and justifying their healing (e.g. Bolsheviks and Jews); c) rallying the masses (e.g. for war and eugenics) (p.2)

Narayanswani (2011) also notes that Nazi propaganda followed the goals of the party and focused on several themes like, humiliation of Germany, to propagate



Jewry, Bolshevism and Capitalism as an evil which were opposed against the patriotic Nazi German. (p.2)

Narayanswani (2011) also notes that Nazi propaganda followed the goals of the party and focused on several themes like, humiliation of Germany, to propagate Jewry, Bolshevism and Capitalism as an evil which were opposed against the patriotic Nazi German. (p.2)

In the Triumph ministers’ speeches focused on the Fuhrer’s action, policy as a leader of Germany and expressions that underline the importance of race, and of German nationality as well: “ Germany – is the house for Germans from all of the world,” says Rudolph Gess, deputy Fuhrer. Joseph Goebbels: “Probably it is good to have power based on dictatorship, but it is much better to win and not lose the hearts of people” ; “Julius Streicher: “A nation that does not protect its racial purity is doomed to extinction” and film ends with Gess’s words “Party is Hitler! Hitler is Germany, and as well as Germany is Hitler!”

We also should point out that Leni Riefenstahl’s crew included 172 people - ten technical staff, thirty-six cameramen and assistants (operating in 16 teams with 30 cameras), nine aerial photographers, 17 newsreel men, 12 newsreel crew, 17 lighting men, two photographers, 26 drivers, 37 security personnel, four labor service workers, and two office assistants (

During the shootings of the film moving cameras, Riefenstahl, for the first time in the filmmaking history used the telephoto lenses to create a distorted perspective.

While portraying Hitler she shot the Fuhrer below eye-level, this angle make the object, in this case the image of Hitler more heroic. Here Fuhrer appears in front of the audience most of the times in close-up. Except this, there are a lot of close-ups of people watching and listening to Hitler and his party followers.

The author of the review (Pillai, 1975) stats that, out of the 96 films which have been produced during 1933-45 by Goebbels, the Fuhrer’s Minister of the Propaganda,



Triumph and Riefenstahl’s second film for Fuhrer Olympiad are the most interesting and innovative non-fiction films on post-war cinema.

The symbols that have been used in the film: swastika, the eagle, flags. The eagle was the symbol or the logo of the Party and it always appeared against the sky. Pillai (1975) underlines that this symbol and how it appears in the films shows that the force and strength of the Party is divine.

Taking into consideration that raw shot were about 120 km. According to review (Pillai, 1975) the director of the Triumph smooth intercuts that no to get bored the audience with the long speeches of the Party officials, and chose important words and phrases that underlines Fuhrer’s image.


“Heydar Aliyev – Destiny” (2000)

“Heydar Aliyev – Genius” (2003)

“Heydar Aliyev – Thinking about the future” (2011)

and “Heydar Aliyev – The State” 2011


The above-mentioned documentaries are dedicated to the deceased president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev. All documentaries except one, “Heydar Aliyev – The State” are consist on archive materials – photos, videos. It is even hard to call this films as an example of the documentary film. In comparison with the Triumph these non-fictions are very poorly edited video sequences.

Unfortunately, until now Aliyev’s cult, his visual or verbal propaganda have been researched neither in Azerbaijan, nor anywhere else. The following paragraphs are based only on the analysis which comes out from the above-mentioned non-fiction films.

The techniques that often have been used during the editing process is the zooming in the photos of Aliyev.




There are used verbal propaganda tools more than visual. For instance, the documentary “Heydar Aliyev – Thinking about the future” - is constructed on “talking heads” of MP’s of the Parliament of the Azerbaijan and stand-up introduction. During the 52 minutes of the film the viewers can see only the interviews of the MP’s and several archive video materials, where Aliyev’s arrival in Azerbaijan and how jubilantly he was met by people are documented.  

“Heydar Aliyev – The State” consist on Aliyev’s himself talks about how the people chose him as a only leader, who saved the country from political disaster and for the second time announced Azerbaijan as a democratic Republic.

Thing that draws special attention is the meetings of Aliyev with his foreign colleagues Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, Suleyman Demirel, the Pope, and etc. Taking into consideration of the mentality of Azerbaijani society we can confidently say that these kind of visual materials give him the image of a significant figure not only in the Azerbaijan, but also in worldwide.

Thinking about the future starts with the voice over on philosophizing time, which is seems is not related to the Aliyev and his reign, and it can easily confuses the viewer. The only explanation of the discussion on the time can be the conceptualization of future in terms of Aliyev’s diplomatic policy. The concept is good, but it is very superficial and clumsy.

The Genius ends with the scene where Aliyev reads the patriotic poem about Azerbaijan, the Thinking about the future ends with the view of the grave and the statue of Aliyev where the anchor puts the flowers to his grave and bows in front of the statue. If we go deeper to this last seconds of the film and analyze this gesture we can say that this is done as a respect to Aliyev, as to the “leader of the nation,” “the father of the nation,” “a wise father,” “phenomenon” and etc.

In addition, the music that sounds in the background of every above-listed documentaries are also chosen randomly, which shows the unproffesionalism of not


only the director, but the whole film crew as well. Mainly selected tunes does not bring any emotions either patriotic, or inspiring.





The films analyzed in this study were released in two different centuries – the Triumph of Will was released in 1935, when the documentary films just started shooting, and the films about Aliyev were released in 2000s. Here time lapse is very important in terms of the implemented techical use on propagating the dictators. Through the analyze of selected documentaries allows us to say that Triumph is the masterpiece among the propagandist documentary films with the all componants and elements that have been used in this film, Between these films have been past more than 65 years, but in Azerbaijani documentaries about Aliyev are done in a very primitive method.  

We should expect that as the documentary about Aliyev’s reign were released in the 21st century mostly, their scenario, visual content, selection of the music are quite poor compared with the the Triumph. Therefore, these films cannot be regarded as examples of propaganda documentary. While, Triumph was edited perfectly, the technical tools, montage is done very professionally, thus (Piallai) a viewer sees not the natural realty, but the masterfully created image of dictator.

The main common features between the films about these two dictators is that the directors of the films tried to present the main characters as the leader of the nations. This quotation is the proof of that: “Heydar Aliyev and Azerbaijan are the quite close to one another as a concept. When we say Heydar Aliyev we mean Azerbaijan, and when we say Azerbaijan we mean Heydar Aliyev,” says MP of Azerbaijan, Aydin Mirzazadeh. “Party is Hitler! Hitler is Germany, and as well as Germany is Hitler!” says Rudolph Gess.

There are a lot of different features which have been used in the films. For example, the selection of the music for the Triumph. “By blurring the line between diegetic and non-diegetic musics, seeding the soundtrack with popular songs




designed to appeal to a large audience, and underscoring images of Hitler with the Horst Wessel Song, the Nazi Party anthem, Riefenstahl did not create a “neutral document” of an event. Instead, she produced a film that reinforced the ideology of the National Socialists, steeling the German populace for the war that was shortly to come,” stats Stefan Strötgen (2008). Here we can see how the music is important for the documentaries and how carefully it is selected by Riefenstahl.

But in the documentaries about Aliyev we can see that the director missed this important tool.

Another differing feature is the visual material. The Triumph has been shot during the congress of the Party, in other words the documentary covers the rallies, live speeches of Party members and Hitler, the life of young wing of the Party. But in the films about Aliyev a viewer cannot see the other side of the country, which is ruled by Aliyev.

There documentaries about Aliyev consist of almost on archive visual materials, but the Triumph shows the real time of 1934-35s.

Despite the fact that there is a mass of visual propagandist content this field is not studied well enough. Certainly, from the earliest of XX centuries visual propaganda became a powerful tool in persuading the society, manipulating the public opinion. Given the fact that in XXI century, the era of the digital world that takes people away from reading, and give the advantages to visual content it becomes more important to study the modern propagandist tools and its effects.





  1. Alan Rosenthal, John Cornerr, “New Challenges for Documentary: Second Edition” 2005, p.1

  2. A.Pillai

  3. Brian Winston

  4. Cora Sol Goldstein, “Capturing the German Eye: American Visual Propaganda in Occupied Germany” 2009, chp.2 p.42

  5. Garth S. Jowett, Victoria O'Donnell, “Propaganda & Persuasion,” 2005, p. 270

  6. Garth S. Jowett, Victoria O'Donnell, “Propaganda & Persuasion,” 1986, IV edition, p. 270

  7. Harold D. Lasswell, “The Theory of Political Propaganda,” 1927, Vol. 42, No. 2 (June): p. 385-86

  8. Jon T. Powell, “Towards a Negotiable Definition of Propaganda for International Agreements Related to Direct Broadcast Satellites,” 1982, p.1

  9. Karthik Narayanaswami, “Analysis of Nazi Propaganda A Behavioral Study,” 2011, p.2

  10. Linebarger, Paul Myron Anthony, “Psychological Warfare”, Combat Forces Press, Washington, 1954,  p.44


  12. Michael Quinn Patton, “Encyclopedia of Statistics in Behavioral Science” 2005, p.2

  13. Meenakshi Gigi Durham, Douglas M. Kellner, Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks, 2009, p. 257

  14. Patricia Aufderheide, “Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction” 2007, ch.p.1-2, 9-10, 42, 71-73.



  17. Stefan Strötgen, “I compose the Party Rally...”: The Role of Music in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, 2008, p.1




Documentary films


1. Triumph of the Will (1935)

2. Heydar Aliyev – Destiny (2000)

3. Heydar Aliyev – Genius (2003)

4. Heydar Aliyev – Thinking about the future (2011)

5. Heydar Aliyev – The State (2011)