Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Organized propaganda: the film department of the War Press Office

The First World War intensified the use and acceptance of new propaganda media. The war effort was encouraged at all levels. The organization of film propaganda in Austria-Hungary was the responsibility from 1914 of the film department of the War Press Office.

‘The importance of the cinema is growing from year to year. The number of cinemas is increasing and they have larger capacities. The financial situation of large sections of the population means that more and more people can visit the cinema. A good film today is shown in over 3,000 cinemas and seen by 10,000 to 12,000 people. From this it is evident that film may be regarded as superior to any other propaganda medium. No other medium than film enables the state to reach the broad masses.’

This statement by Colonel Wilhelm Eisner-Bubna, head of the War Press Office from March 1917, clearly indicated the significance of film as a propaganda medium. Cinema visits had become ‘a public habit’ and had inestimable ‘information and instruction possibilities’ that should be controlled through the setting up of a film department in a ‘military, national and patriotic sense’.

The film department was duly set up within the War Press Office in 1914. Its tasks included the recruitment of film units made up of enlisted cinema specialists, who would shoot films at the front, at headquarters and behind the lines. A cinematographic laboratory was also set up in the department, and all films were subject to censorship.

Qualified and experienced domestic production companies were required to process the desired films. Contracts were ultimately concluded with Sascha-Filmfabrik and Österreichisch-ungarische Kinoindustriegesellschaft. Two companies from Budapest were also recruited. The department was headed from November 1915 by Alexander Kolowrat-Krakowsky, and in 1917 he was replaced by the equally experienced Captain Hans Otto Löwenstein.

The film department had the task of taking making the following propaganda films: 1. a weekly war newsreel, 2. at least one major war film per month, 3. at least one 300–400 m war film per month showing the work in a prisoner-of-war camp or occupied territory, 4. films of the war industry and agriculture, 5. propaganda dramas or feature films.

The propaganda films were shown during the regular cinema operation, in vaudeville and entertainment locales on the home front, in cinemas, in neutral and allied foreign countries by means of mobile cinemas and in specially erected field cinemas ‘to distract and refresh the spirit of the troops’ (An Austro-Hungarian field cinema during the First World War, A 1917).

Translation: Nick Somers


Mayer, Klaus: Die Organisation des Kriegspressequartiers beim k. u. k. AOK im Ersten Weltkrieg 1914–1918, Diss., Wien 1963

Schmölzer, Hildegund: Die Propaganda des Kriegspressequartiers im Ersten Weltkrieg 1914–1918, Diss., Wien 1965

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    War and art

    Many artists, intellectuals and writers welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. They saw it not as an apocalypse but as the opportunity for a change for the better. As such they joined in the patriotic fervour of the first weeks and months of the war. What motivated them not only to devote their artistic energies to the fatherland but also to take an active part in the fighting? How were anti-war sentiments articulated by artists? What other forms of relationship were there between art and warfare during and after the First World War?

  • Aspect

    Guiding the masses

    Guiding the mood of the masses was an important aspect of warfare during the First World War. Considerable information and communication work was carried out to persuade the population of the “true facts”. All areas of life were influenced by propaganda in a way that had not been seen hitherto: reports in the newspapers, posters on the walls, even teaching material in schools now communicated controlled information. What methods and media were used? How did the various warring nations attempt to influence public opinion? What was communicated and how effective was the propaganda?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.

  • Object

    Monitoring & control

    Everyday life in the Habsburg Monarchy was characterised by propaganda, monitoring and control, as can be seen by the many blank spaces in the daily newspapers and deletions in private correspondence and telegrams. At the same time an attempt was made in texts and audio-visual media to whip up general enthusiasm for the war. Not even the youngest inhabitants of the empire remained untouched, and the influence of the state was also felt in the schools of the Monarchy.

  • Person

    Alexander (Sascha) Kolowrat-Krakowsky

    The film pioneer Alexander Kolowrat-Krakowsky was appointed director of the Film Office in the War Press Headquarters in 1915. As a result, his company, “Sascha Filmfabrik”, founded in 1910, became the central film production unit in Austria Hungary.

  • Object

    Depicting the war

    The photo by Alexander Exax shows a scene in the trenches in Galicia in 1915. The title “im Feuer” [“under fire”] gives the impression that the picture has been taken in the middle of the action. Dynamic photos like this were typical of the pictorial iconography of the First World War. The illustrated weeklies were among the most important distribution media, but there were others: exhibitions and posters, picture postcards and cinemas collaborated with private picture agencies and the official propaganda to provide a visual depiction of the war.