Propaganda in Motion. Dziga Vertov`s and Aleksandr Medvedkin`s Film Trains and Agit Steamers of the 1920s and 1930s

Adelheid Heftberger


This article focuses on Soviet agit-trains, initiated in the year 1918, as an important instrument for the dissemination of political propaganda and for the enlightenment of the rural population. These trains were not only used to produce and distribute newspapers and leaflets but were additionally equipped with mobile, independent film production units and cinemas. The directors Dziga Vertov (1896-1954) and Aleksandr Medvedkin (1900-1989) can serve as examples of two different models for how moving images were used as agit-prop. Vertov was already working along these lines during the time of the Civil War in Russia (1917 to 1923), when the railway network was used among other things to maintain support for the Red Army fighting at the front lines. This article aims to shed light on a lesser known chapter in Vertov’s life, emphasising the influence these early experiences had on his creative work later on. Medvedkin’s Film Train project on the other hand focused explicitly on laying bare and denouncing the farmer’s shortcomings using the medium film. This position has its roots in the changed political situation in the 1930s, when the Party relentlessly pushed collectivisation and the first five-year-plan. Although their approaches differed somewhat, both directors developed new strategies for the mediation of political messages through the medium of film, which steered audiences and facilitated their immediate involvement. Comparisons can therefore be made between Vertov and Medvedkin’s working methods and the modern information age, particularly in light of their shared interest in technical progress and their independent efforts to achieve maximum mobility when shooting and screening films.


Dziga Vertov; Aleksandr Medvedkin; Soviet Union; Russian Civil war; agit-train; film train; agitation; propaganda; documentary film



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Apparatus. ISSN 2365-7758