1st Edition

A Critical History of Health Films in Central and Eastern Europe and Beyond

By Victoria Shmidt, Karl Kaser Copyright 2024
    284 Pages 35 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The burgeoning scholarship on Western health films stands in stark contrast to the vacuum in the historical conceptualization of Eastern European films. This book develops a nonlinear historical model that revises their unique role in the inception of national cinematography and establishing supranational health security.

    Readers witness the revelation of an unknown history concerning how the health films produced in Eastern European countries not only adopted Western patterns of propaganda but actively participated in its formation, especially with regard to those considered “others”: Women and the populations of the periphery. The authors elaborate on the long “echo” of the discursive practices introduced by health films within public health propaganda, as well as the attempts to negate and deconstruct such practices by rebellious filmmakers. A wide range of methods, including the analysis of the sociological biographies of filmmakers, the historical reconstruction of public campaigns against diseases and an investigation into the production of health films, contextualizes these films along a multifaceted continuum stretching between the adaptation of global patterns and the cultivation of national authenticities.

    The book is aimed at those who study the history of film, the history of public health, Central and Eastern European countries and global history.

    The Open Access version of this book, available at http://www.taylorfrancis.com, has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 4.0 International license.

    Introduction: Nonlinear historicizing as a method for studying health films. Part 1: Child and nation in the focus of rescue-mission health films. 1. The interwar obsession with family: Eugenic pathos vs. humanistic skepticism. 2. Collective care vs. the “backward” family in Jak Vašíček přišel k nohám. 3. The institutionalized child as a precondition for the healthy nation in the films of Mladen Širola. 4. Central and Eastern European film in the search for deconstructing the institutionalized child. Part 2: Health films for teaching children 5. The complex legacy of early animated health films in Eastern Europe. 6. Bacilínek (1922) on the stage of the national and global orders of health security. 7. Health films for children: Between cultural reciprocity and popular scientism. Part 3: Men and women in the focus of health films. 8. Health films as Bildungsroman for teaching men. 9. Masculinity in health films for the rural population. 10. Health films in the service of eugenic surveillance over women. Part 4: Health films for the interwar periphery. 11. Stín ve světle as the first health film for the periphery: The birth of the canon. 12. Ikina sudbina and Dobro za zlo: Extending the canon of health films to the Muslim periphery. 13. Films of the National Tuberculosis Association: Rooting health films for the periphery in the racial hierarchies of the interwar United States. 14. Conclusion: Health film as fantasy and event.


    Victoria Shmidt is a Senior Researcher at the University of Graz in Austria. Her main interest is to deepen the approaches toward racial thinking in Central Eastern European countries. Recent publications include book “Historicizing Roma in Central Europe Between Critical Whiteness and Epistemic Injustice” (2021).

    Karl Kaser is a Professor of Southeast European history and anthropology at the University of Graz, Austria. His research focuses on historical-anthropological issues and encompasses topics such as gender relations and historical visual cultures. His most recent book is Femininities and Masculinities in the Digital Age.

    Special mention in the Janovics Center Award for Outstanding Humanities Research in Transnational Film and Theatre Studies, 2023

    "The Jury commends the novelty of the topic of the monograph and the relevance of the way in which it analyzes its primary material. Shmidt and Kaser’s effort originally approaches propaganda films about health from East-Central Europe as relevant contributions to understanding important transformations in global conceptions of governmentality. The monograph effectively addresses a substantial gap in the field and shifts away from usual bodies of work focused on Western countries’ institutions and film productions. By combining a wide range of methodologies, film analysis, the history of medicine, cultural anthropology, and political theory, it is exceptionally interdisciplinary. By looking at different actors involved in making health films, it shows complicated entanglements between the local and the global. This approach enriches our knowledge of the role cinema played in contributing to and exerting biopower, while giving full account of previously neglected areas. The case studies reveal early cinematic tools of “othering,” especially along the gender, class, and race spectrum."