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Review: Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies

July 19, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Canadian filmmaker Larry Weinstein sets his sights on how propaganda is used to effect political change in his broad-based and often enjoyable new documentary Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies, which ponders if all art is propaganda, and how we can tell what’s true in this age of fake news.

The film essentially defines propaganda as any work that is meant to inspire social change, for better or worse, and it looks at how art has been used to influence the masses since the earliest cave paintings. Now the ability to spread influential content has simply exploded through social media, allowing it to go further and wider than ever before.

The subjects, among others, include Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei; Jim Fitzpatrick, the Irish artist behind the iconic portrait of Che Guevera that is commonly seen on t-shirts; street artist Shepard Fairey who designed Obama’s red, white and blue “Hope” poster; and Tyler Shields, the photographer who took the controversial photo of Kathy Griffin holding a bloodied Trump head.

Balancing things out on the other side are the right-wing artist Sabo, who uses his guerrilla street art as a way to fight back against the establishment in the very liberal Hollywood; and Gerard Biard, editor of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that had their office shot up by terrorists back in 2015 after publishing drawings of Mohammed, who talks about why people should be able to criticize any religion without fear of violence.

One of the film’s most extreme examples of art being created for propagandistic purposes is that of Leni Riefenstahl, who directed grotesque works of Nazi propaganda but is also considered to have been quite technically proficient as a filmmaker. The film maybe bites off a bit more than it can chew, and I had hoped for a bit more time with some of these subjects, many of whom you could make an entire film about on their own, but Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies is still a fairly entertaining and thought provoking documentary that looks at how easy it is to use art for manipulation.

Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Hot Docs Film Festival.

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