filter by topic »

Film and Media Culture in Cold War Eastern Europe

Back to modules »

It is extremely difficult to create an entire film ‘underground.’ With a few notable exceptions, the nature of the medium typically requires a large-scale infrastructure, a big crew, and a major financial investment. This means that full-scale film production, as it existed under state socialism in Eastern Europe, usually happened above-ground in a studio system, closely supported and monitored by the state. At the same time, screenwriters and directors found many ways of working subtextual meanings into their films which resisted the official political culture, sometimes in visual language, sometimes with allegorical content. Depending on how films were regulated and censored – and this differed greatly from one state system to another, and from period to period—many iconic films were produced under state socialism that broke aesthetic and political norms of the past and were celebrated world-wide for their success. Internationally recognized filmmakers could push the boundaries even farther, and in the 70s and 80s often embarked on co-productions with Western European filmmakers. it is also important to understand the key role that documentary film and television productions played in shaping narrative films and ‘auteur’ cinema. Virtually all filmmakers were trained in both documentary and feature filmmaking, and regularly produced high-quality content for television as well. In this module we will think about film/television, how it operated on the border of official and unofficial cultures, and its relationship to the larger category of visual culture.




  • Imre, A. (Ed.). (2012). A companion to Eastern European cinemas. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Gurshtein, K., & Simonyi, S. (2016). Experimental cinema in state socialist Eastern Europe. Studies in Eastern European Cinema, 7(1), 2–11.
  • Boyer, D. (2003). Censorship as a Vocation: The Institutions, Practices, and Cultural Logic of Media Control in the German Democratic Republic. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 45(03).
  • Wciślik, P. (2017). The Rubber Waistband and the Resistor: Solidarity Radio and Media Fantasies of Emancipation under Late Socialism in Poland. Acta Poloniae Historica, 115, 175.
  • Bren, P. (2010). The Greengrocer and His Tv: The Culture of Communism After the 1968 Prague Spring /. Ithaca : Cornell University Press,.

Featured Items from COURAGE Registry (selection)

Related Collections from COURAGE Registry (selection)


Further Sources


In-class or short-term assignments
1) Look through the featured items selected for this module and see if you can separate the films discussed into "fiction" and "documentary" genre. Do filmmakers seem to stick to one genre or the other? What kinds of events to the documentaries focus on?

2) Take one country as your example and do some basic research on how the studio system worked in that country. (Hint: consult some of the textbooks in the recommended readings.) Now compare with your classmates: were there similarities to be found across all Eastern European cinema systems? where were the major differences?

3) Find one example of a film that was banned in one period during the Cold War, and then released in later decades or after 1989. What were the reasons for this film being banned? Is it appreciated now as an important part of film history or deemed too topical and irrelevant today?
Offsite, longer-term assignments
Think about how film ratings and regulations work in your home country. What are the limits around what can be seen on the screen? How has it changed over the years? When do you see examples of filmmakers circumventing these rules? See if you can identify three films that challenged the political or cultural norms of their day and changed them. Did the filmmakers (this can mean everyone from producers to screenwriters to directors, actors, and any member of the crew) set out to make a ground-breaking film or did it happen because of other cultural forces? How are such films remembered today?


    You must be logged in to read and post comments!