This article explores how nonfiction film in postwar Yugoslavia (1945–51) expressed a fundamental ambivalence that negotiated a desire for and image of a unified nation‐state (supranationalism) with that of one made up of multiple nations (nationalism). I argue that nonfiction film became a key vehicle for communicating the ideological principle of “brotherhood and unity” (“bratstvo i jedinstvo”), a slogan Yugoslav Communists used to articulate a solution to the challenges of a unified, multinational, and multiethnic Yugoslavia. This effort, I contend, emerged not simply through cinematic textuality but also through the social experiences people have with cinema: not just by seeing national bodies laboring and cooperating with other peoples but also by viewing them together in a presentational space, by experiencing a film program with overlapping and conflicting thematics, and by the industrial and institutional organization of nonfiction film itself. Mobilizing Peircean semiotics and Taylor's concept of the social imaginary, I argue that the documentary imagination of “brotherhood and unity” emerges from a combination of textual and extratextual factors, an interrelation of materiality and discursivity.

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