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Young filmmakers highlight the role of ‘hidden persuasion’ in everyday life

Birkbeck’s Hidden Persuaders research group has worked with students from three London schools to create films exploring influence and brainwashing – four of which will feature at the BFI’s Future Film Festival.

The Hidden Persuaders research group in Birkbeck's Department of History, Classics and Archaeology has been working with young people from three North London state schools to explore influence, brainwashing and ‘hidden persuasion’ through the medium of film.

In collaboration with the Derek Jarman Lab and artist Dr Lizzie Burns, places were provided for up to 80 students to work with Birkbeck academics to create their own five-minute visual essays from 2018-19. These explored a plethora of topics relating to hidden persuasion as varied as social media, peer pressure, music, gangs, advertising propaganda, body image, conspiracy theories, ‘nudges’, fake news and the attention economy.

Four of the films have been chosen to feature at the British Film Institute's 2019 Future Film Festival, which will take place on Sunday 24 February.

Hidden Persuaders is a research project based at Birkbeck which examines brainwashing in the Cold War and the real and imagined roles played by psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, exploring how these roles were mobilised in social and political critique. The research team wanted to find out more about the views of teenagers today, asking the students to think as freely as possible in their responses to the word ‘brainwashing,’ hoping to find out what this 1950s word evoked for a generation born after the end of the Cold War.

As the project developed, the students found that a host of other questions and answers emerged about how they regard their own minds and bodies and how they can navigate a changing culture and society, to create fascinating film material.

The films are available to watch on the Hidden Persuaders’ website. This project has been made possible by public engagement funding from the Wellcome Trust.

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