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The Fine Line Between Truth and Manipulation in Film

Dimitri Katsionis

Mar 31, 2023

The social responsibility that films hold in the portrayal of truth.

Film is a multi-billion-dollar industry that touches the heart and soul of every culture around the world. With such a wide and influential reach, it begs the question: “what is the social responsibility of film?” Making a statement worth believing in is crucial to the art form, but at a certain point, unchecked messages can have dangerous consequences. Where do you draw the line between provocative and dangerous?

Michael Haneke once said, “Film is 24 lies per second at the service of truth, or at the service of the attempt to find the truth.” The problem is that the truth is different for everyone. But not having a powerful message in the fear of disagreement is nonsensical. We hold a responsibility to speak our truths and tell our stories as they have a profound impact on moving our society forward. Some filmmakers take this responsibility seriously, while others use it as a tool for their own benefit.


The opinion of the masses shapes our culture, government, way of life and the future we will soon experience. One person that knew this better than anyone, and subsequently exploited this, was Leni Riefenstahl. The regrettably famous German filmmaker responsible for some of the most influential propaganda films of all time. She tapped into pre-established feelings of hatred and amplified them to an extreme degree. 

The Triumph of the Will, her most famous film depicts Hitler as a messiah gracing the world. Accompanying the powerful imagery is Richard Wagner’s enchanting music, adding a sense of mystique to it all. This bold introduction is followed by Hitler spewing his dangerous rhetoric to thousands of German people. All this aided in Leni’s attempt to persuade the public into an extremely nationalist, racist and harmful agenda. She believed spreading this message was her social responsibility, and took pleasure in the manipulation of millions. She succumbed to the propaganda machine and didn’t just present one side of the coin, she shoved it down your throat.

Conversely, Ingmar Bergman created the 1974 miniseries Scenes From a Marriage, a reflection of the director’s abhorrent love life. He experienced five marriages, all ending in divorce so seeing a marriage stripped down to an unstable foundation seemed to be a truth he lived every day. After the miniseries aired on Swedish television, divorce rates reached an all-time high, a result many of which attribute to the series. One could argue Bergman’s pursuit of truth influenced an entire culture to re-evaluate the way they live life. In a way he simply asked a question; “is your marriage really all that great?” He didn’t force his opinions onto you, he was pure in his motivations, unlike Riefenstahl. A testament to the immense pathos that Bergman expertly wove into his stories. 

Films hold a great influence over our culture and society, influencing everyone to a certain degree. But as with any beautiful thing, people will use it to their advantage. Leni Reifenstahl’s entire goal was to indoctrinate a society into one belief, an unethical use of a powerful tool. Contrastingly, Bergman presented his experiences in life and simply raised a question. Both of these scenarios influenced the masses, but one inflicted hate, and one brought reflection. Art is a beautiful thing, but making it for the sake of a hidden agenda destroys any possibility of truth. Filmmakers hold a social responsibility to spread their truths in the hopes of pushing society into a brighter future, not one of their own creation.

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