Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture

A Neo-Colonial Film History

The emergence of neo-colonial corporate propaganda in oil-producing countries largely followed the approach promoted in the 1930s by John Grierson regarding the explicit benefits of sponsorship for corporate reputation for companies and citizens. The IPC films in particular worked to reinvent the image of the British presence in Iraq by constructing positivist narratives about the benefits of oil wealth to the modern nation-state and its people. IPC’s public relations media practices operated simultaneously in the service of corporate and state interests in Iraq during the 1950s. The company sponsored prestige films worked to influence global perceptions of Iraq as an oil state while its cine-magazine aimed to shape national discourses on oil and modernity among Iraqis.

This essay contributes to a deepening of scholarship that interrogates the multiple media practices that straddle and complicate the shared histories of “the colonial” and “the corporate” in media studies. The establishment of corporate public relations offices and associated film units during the first half of the twentieth century was not limited to the British petroleum companies in the Middle East. Nonetheless, the IPC’s efforts to govern national and global imaginaries of oil extraction is an instructive case for understanding the emergence of media practices that linked foreign corporate interests with postcolonial state agendas in the wake of British colonial rule.

In Film and the End of Empire, Lee Grieveson examines Britain’s efforts to ‘project the State’ to colonies through a network of film units, theatrical and non-theatrical distribution circuits, and mobile cinema vans. These hallmarks of the colonial film era, he explains, "were predicated on ideas about the utility of cinema for engineering consent and managing the conduct of diverse populations. ” The British oil company in Iraq produced its program of films during the 1950s based upon these same theories about film’s power to manufacture consent. Yet, despite Britain’s continued economic, cultural, and political hegemony over its former mandate, Iraq was ostensibly a sovereign nation-state after 1932.

Recent studies of industrially sponsored documentary in the collected volume, Films that Work: Industrial Film and the Productivity of Media, show how corporate image archives provide windows to unpacking key aspects of the internal organization of domestic labor and power structures within major European companies. However, the relationship between “educational” or “informational” industrial media practice and postcolonial political landscapes of industrialized resource extraction remain relatively unconsidered. As the exception, Rudmer Canjel's history of the Shell Film Unit examines the impressive range of documentaries made for prestige purposes since the 1920s; however, few of the films discussed by the author attempted narratives on the culture, history, and development of oil-producing countries.

NextThe Iraq Petroleum Company Medienverbund

Previous - Introduction

This page references: