I would like to know whether scholars in the field of film studies have produced any reasonably widely-accepted demarcation criteria for distinguishing between the following kinds of film:

If so, what are those criteria? Alternatively, if there are competing criteria, what are they and when did they emerge?

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    Not a full answer, but a good start: this article from a professor of Cultural Anthropology looks at PSAs and propaganda, and seems to come to the conclusion that the difference is subtle, if at all existent - "propaganda, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder". Is this the sort of information you're looking for? If so, I will keep digging and see if I can piece together a complete answer for you.
    – LazyGadfly
    Apr 3, 2018 at 13:59
  • @LazyGadfly yes, that's the sort of thing, thank you. Good find! And happy digging :)
    – user12981
    Apr 3, 2018 at 21:29

1 Answer 1


The long answer is NO. Because humanist studies have this blurred line of what is certain and what can only be speculated about. Depending on what criteria you will use, whose definition will be determining line or what part of source material you will consider.
For example, a scholar from USA can use this definition American Heritage Dictionary. Which states

The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause.

While the same dictionary but third edition give us

Propaganda is defined as the dissemination of ideas, facts or allegations with the expressed intent of furthering one's cause or of damaging an opposing cause.

So with this somebody using third edition could not count PSA "Black death is coming, vaccine your children" into propaganda. While at the same time somebody using fifth edition would say that every PSA is propaganda.

The short answer is Yes. In general we treat as propaganda everything that is untrue, unchecked or biased served as truth, fact or law.

Training films are movies that show verified information in form of dramatized scenes.

PSA are pure information that is aimed to explain and show how to act in certain, usually life threating, situation.

A STUDY IN MOTION PICTURE PROPAGANDA that use definition of propaganda from third edition of AHD. The study was written in 2005 so 5 years AFTER Fourth edition was published. So by the time the study was made the definition used in it was already different from the "actual" one. So using outdated tool while newer one was available.

This is just work on Hollywood made movies made by American author.

European scholar (for example polish one) could use this definition:

technique of controlling views and behaviour of people consisting on intentional, importunate connected with manipulation influence on community

Notice the controlling and manipulation.

Again, a demarcation criteria cannot be established as cognitive tools differ in just one category of movies (propaganda in this case).

Scholars could came to an agreement regarding mentioned three topics when talking about specific movies (specified to version and date of release) but not about whole genres. And I would assume that said agreement would only be obligatory for the time and people who partake in said deliberation.

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    This is does not an answer my question. I am interested in answers referencing work from the academic discipline of film studies. I did not ask for spurious criticism of scholarly practice in the humanities, nor for quotes from general-purpose dictionaries.
    – user12981
    Apr 3, 2018 at 10:47
  • It answer your question. The first one you asked "I would like to know whether scholars in the field of film studies have produced any reasonably widely-accepted demarcation criteria". Apr 3, 2018 at 10:59
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    You haven't referenced any evidence from the field to support your claim.
    – user12981
    Apr 3, 2018 at 11:06
  • Added extra explanation with a link to study. Apr 3, 2018 at 11:50
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    The "study" you added is not a work from the field of Film Studies - it is an anti-Semitic rant from a "securities and entertainment attorney", not an academic. Additionally, it does not actually address the topic of this question (differentiating propaganda, PSAs, and training films), but instead tries to label all Hollywood productions as propaganda designed to promote Jewish interests.
    – LazyGadfly
    Apr 3, 2018 at 13:39

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