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The European Approach to Propaganda confronted with the Realities of Colonial Africa

Vincent Bouchard


À travers la comparaison des choix et des difficultés rencontrés par les colonisateurs britanniques, belges et français lors de la mise en place de systèmes de propagande, cet article vise à questionner une conception transnationale du medium cinématographique. En effet, les synthèses des systèmes de propagande mis en place en Europe et les rapports sur les expérimentations menées dans les colonies révèlent un certain nombre de préconceptions récurrentes : le cinéma comme vecteur d’un message universellement déchiffrable ; le cinéma comme forme d’accès direct au subconscient du spectateur ; le cinéma comme mode d’expression privilégié de la supériorité technologique européenne.

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1The European colonisation of Africa created very different institutional and local realities, resulting in similar and lingering administrative structures that reinforced modern racist ideologies. Specifically, there are notable similarities in how European colonisers treated cinematography: Cinema was perceived mainly as a threat, which lead colonial governments to implement very strict and precise censorship of distributed films, as well as to exert tight control over all forms of audiovisual production. Starting in the 1930s, the colonial powers also perceived the potential of films as propaganda: the British, Belgian and French administrations set up similar systems of colonial screenings, set comparable goals, and encountered the same difficulties. They all ran up against similar problems: geographical (poor roads, tropical climate, etc.), technical (sound synchronisation and amplification, projector lamp power), economic (budget restrictions, etc.) and linguistic (diversity of languages and cultures). That is why, aside from some local exceptions, the ineffectiveness of these screenings as propaganda is now largely accepted (Rolot, Ramirez, 1990; Burns, 2002; Bouchard, 2010). At the same time, these policies reveal a relatively homogeneous understanding of the cinematographic medium and shed a new light on a European approach to propaganda.

2The first attempt to influence public opinion via an audio-visual propaganda in Africa was undertaken by British authorities during the Boer War, in the South African Republic at the turn of the twentieth century. After the First World War, they tested several systems to spread educational messages, like with the Nigeria Health Propaganda Unit (1931-1940), under the supervision of William Sellers. All the records from this specific propaganda system are very laudatory. For example, the rapporteurs vaunt the merits of the general organisation of the unit, the quality of the cinema van (used to screen films in the countryside), as well as the educational content of the movies. However, no reports are specifically devoted to the reception of the films, including questions of sound and commentary, either recorded or spoken live at the event. By contrast, the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment (BEKE, 1933-1937), under the supervision of L.A. Notcutt and G.C. Latham, addressed these questions, and this example demonstrates the limited choices available to the colonisers with respect to the technical feasibility of the projections (problems of synchronisation) and budgetary constraints (dubbing the commentary was very expensive!). From previous experience, the directors of the BEKE knew that in order for their films to be understood, they needed to adapt them to include language and commentary that would be accessible to their audiences:

  • 1 L.A. Notcutt, G.C. Latham, The African and the Cinema, 1937, p. 28-29.

Silent film with captions would be useless where so few Africans could read; at the same time synchronised sound would be prohibitive in cost and there would be the constant language difficulty in a land of so many different vernaculars. How could this difficulty best be overcome?1

3L.A. Notcutt and G.C. Latham, who were in charge of the Experiment and later wrote a report on it, faced technical problems concerning the recording of different versions of films, specifically, how to record commentary in many different vernacular languages, and the amplification of the film’s sound for large crowds during the 1930s. They first chose to record various versions on vinyl disks, which were more or less synchronised with the film. In addition to the difficulties of synchronisation, the disk was fragile and not adapted to frequent use in outdoor conditions, resulting in poor quality sound that was impossible to amplify.

  • 2 L.A. Notcutt, G.C. Latham, The African and the Cinema, 1937, p. 74.

4Faced with these kinds of challenges during the tour, Notcutt and Latham found a pragmatic solution, probably inspired by the tradition of the film lecturer, a practice that had been very common during the early days of cinema. Each time they encountered technical problems (be it lack of sound or out of sync sound) or cultural difficulties (no suitable translations or cultural dissonances), the organisers would ask a person familiar with the local language to present, translate, and explain the film projections. This film commentator could be a local resident experienced in both the vernacular culture and in English or, another common solution, could be one of the employees of BEKE. As mentioned in a short note on one of the crew-members, Hamedi, a cook for the Experiment, turned out to be an excellent presenter: “Whether brow-beating or parleying with other Natives, or providing commentary for films, or holding forth through the microphone to assembled crowds, which gave him special pleasure, he was never at a loss.2” In this passage, the BEKE organisers demonstrate that a live commentator was an excellent mediator between the film and the audience. Unfortunately, instead of using their report to promote this educational system, Notcutt and Latham tried to put their technical problems in perspective and their conclusion reaffirmed their faith in the sound-on-disk system! In the end, the poor quality of the movies plus the technical limits of the apparatus used for the projections discredited the BEKE experiment and its pedagogical innovations in the eyes of the British administrators.

  • 3 W Sellers, Annual Report, Colonial Film Unit, London, 1952, National Archives, CO 875/51/7, London, (...)

5Inspired by these diverse experiences, the British government created the Colonial Film Unit in 1939: “The CFU was established in 1939 by the Ministry of Information in order to make films, mainly about the British and the Colonial war effort, for audiences in the Colonies.3” The CFU was also in charge of the distribution and the broadcast of these movies in the British empire. Consequently, the CFU adopted the Cinema-Van and the associated film aesthetic from the Nigerian experiment, but completely ignored the Bantu commentators. Following a similar logic, the Belgian government created the Service de l’information du Congo Belge in 1943:

  • 4 Van Schuylenbergh, Zana Aziza Estambala (dir), Patrimoine d’Afrique centrale, 2010, p. 27.

Le gouvernement colonial se trouve dès lors confronté à une série de questions portant sur le choix de sujets suffisamment suggestifs pour être éducatifs, sur la nécessité de former le public au langage cinématographique et d’adopter un langage élémentaire, sur l’emploi des langues, sur la distribution des films et l’organisation des projections4.

6After World War II, the French government was faced with similar difficulties when organising propaganda screening in Algeria (Service de diffusion cinématographique du Gouverneur Général en Algérie, 1947-196_). All of this illustrates the fundamental gap between a specific understanding of audio-visual propaganda largely spread and practiced in Europe, and its necessary adaptation within African cultural contexts. Based on archival information, it is apparent that there was a dichotomy between the theoretical vision of the administrators and the tactics deployed by local teams. One of the recurring difficulties uncovered by the propagandists was the opacity of audio-visual messages for spectators who understood neither the cinematographic codes nor the cultural references of the colonisers. One of the solutions that they discovered pragmatically was that of live commentary delivered in a language understood by the spectators, before, during, and after the screening. I found several terms (“Interpreter”, “Film commentator”, “commentateur”, “Speaker-Interprète”, etc.) among British, Belgian and French archives, referring to this practice. Interestingly, even when the solution of the translator was mentioned by those on the ground, it disappears in reports from those higher up in the administrative. For example, I consulted 7 boxes of archives at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgium on the colonial projections in the Belgian Congo. Only 5 documents directly addressed the question of the language of projection or direct commentary. I observed the same thing during my research in the French archives. Concerning sources from the French Ministry of the Colonies between 1930-1943, only 4 documents out of 21 addressed the question of translation or commentary. Even when it was mentioned, it was secondary at best.

  • 5 For example, this paper is not analyzing in detail the British, Belgium, and French colonial movie (...)

7Several hypotheses can explain the absence of the film commentator from the historical records. One of the most compelling is that it was important for the colonisers to control the message they delivered to local populations and recorded commentary guaranteed the content. A person explaining the film during a projection would inevitably modify the propaganda apparatus and diminish the subconscious impact of cinema. However, my principal hypothesis here is that the colonial administrators maintained an irrational confidence in their audio-visual propaganda system, a faith that was based on a similar conception of the cinematographic medium. Indeed, the syntheses of the propaganda systems set up in Europe and the reports on the experiments carried out in the colonies reveal a certain number of recurring preconceptions. In focusing mainly on reports, memoranda, and other publications originating from the British, Belgium, and French colonial administrations5 concerning the film propaganda policies of their African Empires from the 1930s to the 1950s, this paper aims to further explore this hypothesis and describe their specific understandings of audio-visual propaganda in detail.

Cinema as a vector of universally-decipherable messages

  • 6 “Les hommes connaissent le besoin d’un langage universel”, malheureusement, chaque “tentative, […] (...)
  • 7 Jean Epstein, Écrits sur le Cinéma, Le cinéma du diable, Paris, 1947, 1974, p. 359.

8The first well-known misconception of the cinematographic medium concerns its alleged universality. Indeed, many European administrators in charge of organising the distribution of audio-visual messages in the African colonies, regardless of whether they had technical skills in filmmaking or not, believed that cinema was a universal language. This reflects a widespread conception of arts based on photographic images. For example, Serguei M. Eisenstein recognised in Dickens’ and Griffith’s concept of montage the ambition to create a universal language6. For Epstein, the “men know the need for a universal language”, unfortunately, each “attempt, [...] showed its limits”. “Yet, without any notice, the universal language was born in the basement of a Parisian café.7 Silent film was conceived as a vehicle for signs suitable to be understood by all people. However, according to Epstein, talking cinema limits the universality of film. This conception persists to this day, particularly amongst those who do not have any specialist knowledge of cinema. Administrators in London during the 1930s were also systematically persuaded by the educational value of film:

  • 8 Draft Report on the Machinery for the Distribution and Display of Educational Films in Educational (...)

Over the last six years, experiments as [sic] to the educational value of the film have been undertaken by a dozen or more Local Education Authorities in England and Scotland. In every case the experiment has proved that films are an excellent aid to education. For some purposes they are unique in the services which [sic] they can render the teacher8.

9For these decision-makers, a well-conceived film could be used to supply a concrete and applied presentation of any type of discourse that would be intelligible to every type of audience. Thus, the manuals and guides that promoted the idea of education through film in European ministries concentrated first and foremost on the aesthetic norms of production, the problems of distribution (program, distribution, etc.) and the quality of projection (material, personnel). Generally, the authors were inspired by their own experiences, praising a certain type of cinema that seemed to them an excellent model for propaganda systems:

  • 9 Pierre Bonardi, “Pour le meilleur film colonial”, in Ciné-Miroir, Paris, 1934, Archives ANOM 61COL8 (...)

Chaumel a donné l’exemple de ce que doit être le film de propagande avec son documentaire Le Réveil d’une race (la lutte contre la maladie du sommeil), qui, quoique purement documentaire et non des plus attrayants, fit, après avoir été intelligemment sonorisé, une très belle carrière dans une grande salle des boulevards. Ou la propagande sera conçue et réalisée à la manière de Chaumel, ou elle sera coûteuse et inutile9.

10In their conception, a film adapted to their taste should also fit their "educational" purposes. Next, it is easy to extend this axiom, more or less proven in a European context, to a universal dimension. Such a conception of cinematographic reception stipulates a lack of reference or interpretation. This renders film’s didactic usage as almost magical, allowing it to solve all kinds of socio-educational problems.

  • 10 Films for African Audiences, in Colonial cinema, Vol. I, n° 4, June 1943, p. 2.

Besides being a powerful weapon for the gradual elimination of adult illiteracy, the cinema can be a medium for promoting that better social understanding which must be the basis of post-war reconstruction. The scope of the educational film is almost unlimited. It can be used to impart vital knowledge in such subjects as agriculture and hygiene10.

11Although the realities on the ground contradict these types of affirmations (in 1943, the difficulties encountered by the CFU had already been well documented), educational movies were regularly altered and adapted to fit the objectives of each organisation. In Belgium for example, the majority of articles published in specialised journals (Cahiers Belges et Congolais ; Droit et Liberté ; Nouvelle revue pédagogique ; OCIC; Revue internationale du cinéma ; etc.) and books in the 1930s and 1940s stressed the feasibility of propaganda through film in the Congo.

12The conception of the universality of film allowed colonial administrators to reduce production costs by copying educational films produced on the colonial mainland as versions for the colonies. However, it also allowed them to centralise, and thus control the distribution of the films and their messages:

  • 11 AOF, Le film à l’école, mars 1932, Dakar, Archives ANOM 61COL1733.

La généralisation de l’usage du cinéma à l’école est souhaitable, mais il faudrait davantage de films éducatifs documentaires ou historiques et des installations permettant la projection pendant le jour – il faudrait par conséquent constituer une cinémathèque coloniale ou intercoloniale11.

13All these arguments concur in suggesting that colonial administrators bought into the idea of the universality of the cinematographic message, even though compelling evidence against this idea had already been published in the 1930s. Aside from the difficult physical conditions (poor roads, tropical climate) and the rationing of material associated with the war, the main problem of the propaganda system was to adapt itself to a varied African public composed of both rural and urban populations, using a great diversity of languages and belonging to different cultures, and possessing different levels of knowledge of Western culture. For example, the spectator in a rural area had fewer contacts with the colonisers, and therefore had more difficulty in understanding the Western references in the movies. Thus, of the numerous problems concerning the films’ reception, the question of cultural references proved one of the most difficult to address, especially as it pertained to the interpretation of a cinematographic image. Starting in the 1930s, local organisers of colonial projections frequently reported significant discrepancies between the references conveyed by the film and the spectators’ horizon of expectation:

  • 12 Champion, “Correspondence to the editor of Colonial Cinema”, in Colonial cinema, Vol. 3, n° 1, 1945 (...)

Such a common object to us as a motor ambulance requires to be labelled and described in a manner totally different form the short title such as "Rapid collection of the wounded is of primary importance", with which one might introduce the subject to a European audience. Ninety per cent of my audiences did not know a motor ambulance from a tank12.

  • 13 Africa is a continent and there is no common language for all the British colonies (https://africas (...)

14Explaining all these references within a single commentary was impossible, since the understanding of the cultural contexts, as well as that of the English language, varied greatly from one member of the audience to another.13 In short, it was quite impossible to make a movie suitable for all African audiences, with the notable exception of Charlie Chaplin’s The Manhunt, a collection of selected shots from a much longer film, The Adventurer (Charlie Chaplin, 1917). According to the numerous reports made by local British Propaganda Officers, it was apparently well-received by the spectators:

  • 14 “Charlie Chaplin Films”, in Colonial cinema, Vol. I, n° 2, April 1943, p. 3.

Chaplin is such a success that I hope you are arranging for more of his films to be sent here.
Shall be glad to received as soon as possible a Chaplin film in addition to The Manhunt.
It will be most useful to have another Chaplin film

15In this movie, Chaplin plays an escaped convict on the run from prison guards. He falls into favour with a wealthy family after he saves a young lady from drowning, but her suitor does everything he can to have Chaplin arrested.

16Even if Chaplin’s Manhunt was a real success in the British colonies, this film still demonstrates how a seemingly very simple and relatable gag can still be misconstrued/misunderstood due to cultural differences. The ice-cream scene serves as an excellent example of cultural problems in interpretation: in a series of slapstick gags, the Tramp first drops his frozen treat down his pants and, finally able to liberate himself from the freezing glob, he drops it off the balcony. Unfortunately, the ice cream falls directly down the back of a well-dressed Lady. The woman’s surprise and dramatic gestures as she tries to rid herself of the slithering ball of frozen dessert, melting as it makes its way down her lower back would make anyone familiar with ice cream holler with delight. The scene is not so funny for a viewer who is unable to imagine the temperature, or the texture of the white ball shown on screen. Again, since this explanation would be unnecessary for the main target audiences, there was no reason to include an explanation in the movie itself.

17In the case of the ice-cream gag, the inability of the colonial screening apparatus to broadcast culturally specific content did not crucially affect their propaganda efforts, but it helps us to think about difficult it was to adapt content to different audiences for propaganda films in the colonies. Although this was rarely mentioned in reports prepared by the colonial propaganda system, the films that were distributed had to be “localised” to fit the cinematographic experience of a specific audience. At the same time, it was necessary to introduce the principle of audio-visual screenings to unfamiliar spectators. As with any language, we learn the norms and references of cinema in an inconsistent manner; the later in life that we start this learning process and the greater the distance between our epistemological assumptions and those of the dominant Western cultures, the more progressive and pedagogical this training needs to be.

18Certain colonial administrators, looking back on their experiences acquired in specific territories, tried to adapt the educational film to these territories. Thus, they not only posed questions about the language of recorded commentary, but also about the script, the number of actors and their performances, the framing, the editing, etc. This kind of interrogation remained rare, and it was not grounded in a pedagogical approach but rather in the desire to impose colonial messages more effectively. More generally, it appears that the administrators in London took quite some time to turn their attention to the conditions of reception of their movies (Morton-Williams, 1952). They rarely asked themselves if they were effective. They never tried to understand why the local organisers experienced difficulties or examine the need to adapt the propaganda device to the local cultures: they were colonial administrators, far away from the realities, with very minimal knowledge of the local cultures.

From classic propaganda to representations of “European technological superiority”

19At first, colonial screenings were inspired by the European propaganda experience, and based on a “visual continuity”, which was believed to guarantee the same comprehension by everyone in the audience. According to this understanding, cinema, as a method of propaganda, required the audience to be in very specific conditions of reception. This included both an individual and collective reception experience, facilitated by the darkness of the room and a continuous and homogenous stream of images and sound that enveloped the spectators, plunging them into a “torpeur fictionnelle” (Odin, 1990). The conception of cinema as an audio-visual continuum that facilitates propaganda is nicely summarised in the encyclopedia Vigilanti Cura, by Pope Pious XI (1936):

  • 15 Vigilanti Cura du Pape Pie XI, cité in Émile Inglesis, Revue internationale du cinéma, n° 17, 1953, (...)

On ne peut trouver aujourd’hui moyen plus puissant que celui du cinéma pour exercer de l’influence sur la foule, soit par la nature elle-même des images projetées sur l’écran, soit par la popularité du spectacle cinématographique et par les circonstances qui l’accompagnent15.

20This also reflects the understanding articulated by John Grierson first at the General Post Office Film Unit in London, then at the National Film Unit in Ottawa:

  • 16 John Grierson, “Art in action”, in Peter Morris, 1987, p. 41.

They tell us that art is a mirror – a mirror held up to nature. I think this is false image… In a society like ours… art is not a mirror but a hammer. It is a weapon in our hands to see and say what is right and good and beautiful, and hammer it out as the mold and pattern of men’s actions16.

21The conception of cinema as propaganda is justified in different ways across the political spectrum but remains relatively similar from the Communists to the Catholics. Thus, the conception of cinema as an ideological hammer or a psychological weapon that influences the masses was widespread throughout Europe between the two world wars. Cinematographic propaganda was largely exploited during the Second World War, both in Europe and elsewhere around the world. It remained very present after the War, despite the fact that, after the totalitarian excesses of the Nazi régime, the term ‘propaganda’ was no longer used (Villatoux, 2007).

22The organisers of colonial projections thus found themselves caught up in a series of contradictions: the audio-visual continuum reinforced the impact of cinema on the mind. Unfortunately, cinema had ‘lost’ its universal nature the moment images became synchronised with commentary. If the recording of different versions, adapted to the different languages spoken by the spectators, was difficult to put into place (for both technical and economic reasons), the live presentation and direct translation of the films offered a potential solution for this problem. Alas, at the same time, the use of a commentator disrupted the mediated homogeneity of the screening and, by consequence, its propagandist impact!

23Considering the difficulties of reception at the semantic and syntactic level, as well as the many technical problems (unreliable or inexistent electricity supply, absence of projectors, poor access to communities via mobile cinema units, etc.), we can safely assume that educational film projections were relatively ineffective in rural villages. The testimony of Father Cornil confirms this hypothesis, particularly when the screenings were too irregular to create a true educational system:

  • 17 L’abbé Cornil, “Le cinéma éducatif pour Indigènes”, 1951, p. 633.

Même avec des films adaptés à ces mentalités arriérées, la projection n’aurait aucune valeur éducative, l’attention de l’indigène étant captivée par une succession d’images qui le plongent dans un ahurissement complet qui ne lui permet pas d’établir entre elles un lien logique. Quant au commentaire, il se perd dans le bruit, les clameurs, les rires provoqués par l’image quelle qu’elle soit.17

24Without going into the racist aspect of these remarks, it is still interesting to make note of the conclusion. Colonial projections did not allow the diffusion of a message (educational, religious, or political), as is confirmed in this British article from 1945:

  • 18 “Effective Propaganda”, in Colonial cinema, Vol. 3, n° 4, December 1945, p. 84.

We do not suppose for a moment that more than 5 per cent, if that, of our audiences leave our show with any real understanding of warfare or the technicalities of any single Army [sic] trade. But they do very definitely carry away with them an impression of a body of men, their own kith and kin, who are not only superbly fit, but have acquired a sense of purpose in life; who are living a more abundant life in every respect – and surely this, and not just literacy, is the real intention of mass education?18

  • 19 Digital seminar, HESCALE: (...)

25The same thing occurred with the projections put on by the Belgian government in the Congo (Ramirez, Rolot, 1985) or the SDC in Algeria19. Globally, the large majority of spectators had neither the cultural references nor the knowledge of cinematographic codes to interpret the audio-visual images that they saw.

26We could thus distinguish between three groups within these colonial populations with respect to the reception of these screening. In the first group were the educated members of the audience who could follow the Western references and were capable of deconstructing the propagandist messages and were consequently less susceptible to being influenced by the projected films. The second group covers the spectators who had acquired the cultural codes that formed the basis of Western cinema but did not have the necessary training to question the colonial discourse. These people might have been influenced, if not convinced by the propaganda. The last group of the public for these propaganda screenings, and certainly the largest of the three groups, was composed of people without any of these codes who were drawn to the cinematographic spectacles as a form of attraction (Gunning, 1986). They came first and foremost to witness the manifestation of the magic of European technology. This motivation corresponds with the mode of attraction that characterised early cinema in Europe and the US.

27In this way, although colonial cinema did not function at the desired level of educational content and political messaging, the projections still had an impact on the spectators. The spectacular nature of film had a certain level of influence on the audience’s minds. However, as it concerns dominant ideology, this influence was too spread out to be effective and it is nearly impossible to evaluate the political impact of these propaganda systems. In contrast, my hypothesis suggests that because these projections were often some of the first cinematographic experiences for local populations, they structured in a very specific manner their audio-visual imagination

28The main reason for this failure was the weak attempts at adapting the propaganda systems to the reality on the ground. Outside of the technical difficulties (connected to the questions of synchronisation, budget, climate, etc.), the main difficulty faced by the local operators was the impossibility of adjusting a message conceived in the mainland to fit the references of the spectators. Thus, not taking into account the level of knowledge and the thought system of a person whom one wants to teach is a major handicap: “Ignoring spiritual causation meant that all the health films were greeted with great scepticism.” The risk is of spreading a message of prevention that is received with such scepticism that the propaganda session produces the opposite effect and reinforces the representations that one seeks to contradict. Due to their training, but also to the strength of racist prejudices across Europe in the first half of the 20th century, the administrators were not prepared to take the linguistic and cultural diversity of their colonial territories into account.

29Moreover, the widely-held European conception of universal cinematographic propaganda, effectively based on an encompassing audio-visual continuum, did not allow them to envision and implement alternative solutions. Interestingly enough, such a solution would have given more autonomy to film broadcasting services in the territories so that they could produce films that had cultural relevance and that had commentary in a vernacular language. However, this system would have been a total contradiction to the very idea of propaganda!

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AOF, Le film à l’école, mars 1932, Dakar, Archives ANOM 61COL1733.

Draft Report on the Machinery for the Distribution and Display of Educational Films in Educational and Similar Institutions within the British Empire, London, September, 1937, National Archives, CO 323/1420/11.

“Films for African Audiences”, dans Colonial cinema, Vol. I, n° 4, June 1943.

“A Van with History”, dans Colonial cinema, Vol. 3, n° 4, December 1945.

“Effective Propaganda”, dans Colonial cinema, Vol. 3, n° 4, December 1945.

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Directives concernant l’utilisation dans les milieux indigènes des groupes mobiles de cinéma, Léopoldville, 16 décembre 1949, AAMAF, GG 8780.

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Rapport sur la Tournée du Groupe Mobile Cinématographique en Territoire de Gemena, Gemena, 19 septembre 1954, AAMAF, GG 8780.

Rapport sur la Tournée du Groupe Mobile Cinématographique en Territoire de Gemena, Gemena, 2 octobre 1954, AAMAF, GG 8780.

Les auxiliaires visuels dans l’éducation de base et le développement communautaire, 1959, Archives INA.

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Champion 1945 : Champion, “Correspondence to the editor of Colonial Cinema”, dans Colonial cinema, Vol. 3, n° 1, 1945.

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Notcutt 1937 : G.C. Latham, L.A. Notcutt, The African and the Cinema : An Account of the work of the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment during the Period March 1935 to May 1937, Londres, Edinburgh House Press, 1937.

Piron 1948 : Piron, Règlement relatif à la location des films pour projections cinématographiques dans les milieux indigènes, Secrétariat Général, Section de l’Information, Léopoldville, 22 juillet 1948, AAMAF, GG 545.

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1 L.A. Notcutt, G.C. Latham, The African and the Cinema, 1937, p. 28-29.

2 L.A. Notcutt, G.C. Latham, The African and the Cinema, 1937, p. 74.

3 W Sellers, Annual Report, Colonial Film Unit, London, 1952, National Archives, CO 875/51/7, London, p. 35.

4 Van Schuylenbergh, Zana Aziza Estambala (dir), Patrimoine d’Afrique centrale, 2010, p. 27.

5 For example, this paper is not analyzing in detail the British, Belgium, and French colonial movie production, focusing only on instructions and strict rules issued by senior management. Likewise, when the actual functioning of the propaganda systems on the ground is mentioned, it is only to show the contradictions of the state level policies.

6 “Les hommes connaissent le besoin d’un langage universel”, malheureusement, chaque “tentative, […] a montré ses limites”. “Or, sans qu’on y eût pris garde, la langue universelle était née dans le sous-sol d’un café parisien.” (S.M. Eisenstein, Dickens, Griffith, the Film Today, 1977, p. 199).

7 Jean Epstein, Écrits sur le Cinéma, Le cinéma du diable, Paris, 1947, 1974, p. 359.

8 Draft Report on the Machinery for the Distribution and Display of Educational Films in Educational and Similar Institutions within the British Empire, London, September, 1937, National Archives, CO 323/1420/11, p. 5.

9 Pierre Bonardi, “Pour le meilleur film colonial”, in Ciné-Miroir, Paris, 1934, Archives ANOM 61COL859, p. 1.

10 Films for African Audiences, in Colonial cinema, Vol. I, n° 4, June 1943, p. 2.

11 AOF, Le film à l’école, mars 1932, Dakar, Archives ANOM 61COL1733.

12 Champion, “Correspondence to the editor of Colonial Cinema”, in Colonial cinema, Vol. 3, n° 1, 1945, p. 44.

13 Africa is a continent and there is no common language for all the British colonies (

14 “Charlie Chaplin Films”, in Colonial cinema, Vol. I, n° 2, April 1943, p. 3.

15 Vigilanti Cura du Pape Pie XI, cité in Émile Inglesis, Revue internationale du cinéma, n° 17, 1953, p. 17.

16 John Grierson, “Art in action”, in Peter Morris, 1987, p. 41.

17 L’abbé Cornil, “Le cinéma éducatif pour Indigènes”, 1951, p. 633.

18 “Effective Propaganda”, in Colonial cinema, Vol. 3, n° 4, December 1945, p. 84.

19 Digital seminar, HESCALE:

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Vincent Bouchard, « The European Approach to Propaganda confronted with the Realities of Colonial Africa »Mise au point [En ligne], 13 | 2020, mis en ligne le 10 novembre 2020, consulté le 28 février 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Vincent Bouchard

Vincent Bouchard is Associate Professor of Francophone Studies at Indiana University – Bloomington. He currently works on the various forms of cinematographic practices developed in West Africa since the 1960’s, including the conditions experienced by early filmmakers, the popular reception of films, and the practices of educational and colonial screenings and their impact on African cinema. His recent works include the book Pour un cinéma léger et synchrone à Montréal ! at the Septentrion University Press (2012), “The Non-Fiction Film Production at the Origins of Francophone West-African Cinema” (2017), and “Cinomade and the fight against the HIV/Aids pandemic in Burkina Faso” (2017).

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