We joke about Hollywood moguls barking orders like mad dictators, but did you know that actual dictators occasionally get involved in the movie business – and that their actions make the likes of Michael Bay (once famously called “worse than Hitler” by his cast members) look positively delightful?
These are the movies that were funded directly by some of the world’s most deadly dictators, so they might just have a hidden agenda…
‘Lion Of The Desert’
Funded by: Muammar Qaddafi
This 1981 historical action film starred Anthony Quinn as Libyan leader Omar Mukhtar, Rod Steiger as Mussolini and Oliver Reed in a supporting role, set during the years leading up to World War II. It is notable for two reasons: firstly, it was bankrolled by the Libyan tyrant Muammar Qaddafi, who funded the entire £24 million budget himself and lent the production the use of 5,000 military personal; and secondly, because it became one of Hollywood’s most legendary flops, bringing in less than £1 million in revenue. The movie was banned in Italy after the then Prime Minister claimed it was “damaging to the honour of the Italian army” and was only shown in the territory in 2009 – when Qaddafi paid the country a state visit.
'Triumph Of The Will’
Funded by: Adolf Hitler
Pioneering German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (above) became quite taken with Adolf Hitler in 1932 and found herself caught up in the propaganda machine, later finding herself contributing to it. After meeting the Nazi leader, Riefenstahl was offered a directing job on the film 'Der Sieg des Glaubens’ ('The Victory Of Faith’), an hour-long film about the Nuremberg Rally in 1933. The director would later go on to create 'Triumph des Willens’ ('Triumph Of The Will’) in 1934 about the Nazi Party Congress in 1934, a film that was fully funded by the Nazi Party and listed Adolf Hitler as executive producer. Riefenstahl, a Holocaust denier, lived until she was 101 and died in 2003 but always denied she was part of the propaganda machine, although when she was shopping around her 1936 Nazi Olympics documentary 'Olympia’ for buyers in the United States, she was quoted as calling Hitler “the greatest man who ever lived.”
'Pulgasari’ (aka Korean Godzilla)
Funded by: Kim Jong-Il
In a story even more difficult to believe than 'Argo’, the North Korean dictator was so keen to use cinema as a propaganda tool to brainwash his citizens that he ordered the kidnapping of two of South Korea’s premier film directors Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee to recreate Western movies for DPKR audiences. After keeping them apart in squalid conditions for five years, Jong-Il reunited the pair in 1983 and put them in charge of the state’s cinema output. Their 'masterpiece’ was 'Pulgasari’, a 'Godzilla’ rip-off with Communist themes. After they gained Kim Jong-Il’s trust, the couple were allowed to travel to Vienna in order to research their next blockbuster, based on the life of Genghis Khan. Seizing their chance, they escaped in a taxi and sought refuge at the US Embassy. Weird postscript: living under CIA protection in America, Shin and Choi went on to make numerous movies for Disney, including the '3 Ninjas’ franchise.
'General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait’
Funded by: Idi Amin
French director Barbet Schroeder had unprecedented access to the Ugandan dictator and his army for this 1974 warts-and-all documentary. The film sees Amin go about his daily business, all smiles and sunshine, while bodies are buried behind the scenes. As agreed with Schroeder, the filmmaker released two versions of the film: one which was presented to Amin for release in Uganda, and another, longer, domestic cut, which contained an extra half hour of less-than-savoury material relating to Amin’s dictatorship. Amin sent spies to Britain to find out what was divulged in the extra scenes, and upon learning of the additional material, rounded up 200 French citizens in an armed hotel in Uganda and gave them Schroeder’s telephone number, instructing them to call the director and explain that their safe release was dependent on him removing the footage.
Image credits: YouTube/Rex Features