This movement should be seen in the context of the documentary practices in both film and photography that flourished on an international level around 1930 and which principally aimed at a representation of the economic crisis of 1929 onwards and its social effects, particularly among the less privileged social classes. The genre of documentary took shape within this movement with the specific intention of giving visibility to the emerging working classes in the era of mass democracy. Within this context, the documentary discourse should not be seen as a homogeneous field, but one in which conflicts and antagonistic positions arose, principally between revolution and reformism.
The reformist documentary found its classic cinematographic expression in John Grierson’s British Documentary Movement, while the identification between revolutionary social movements and the new filmmaking arose from the Soviet experiments of Vertov and Eisenstein and the poetic documentaries of Joris Ivens, as well as in the productions of amateur workers’ organisations such as the Workers’ Film and Photo League in the USA. Proletarian documentary cinema established two principal discourses. Firstly, it proposed an alliance between filmmakers and social movements, giving rise to the epic tone of Soviet productions. Secondly, its mission to reveal the ugliness and horror of poverty and exploitation resulted in naturalistic rhetorics that gave formal expression to an identification between abjection and proletarian life. The intention of such films was to reveal the indignity of the working classes under capitalism, particularly under the conditions arising from the economic crisis of the Weimar period, with the aim of encouraging revolutionary political strategies. This latter facet would be one of the most crucial and influential effects of worker documentary film throughout the 1930s, in which the interiorisation and dissemination of a type of film rooted in the description of working-class life and of the socially unprotected extended beyond the networks of the movement itself.
Session 1: Proletarian symphonies
Date: May 11
Dziga Vertov. Entuziazm: Simfoniya Donbassa(Enthusiasm. Symphony of the Donbass), 1931. 35 mm film, 67’, b/w., sound.
Joris Ivens. Komsomolsk,1932. 35 mm film transferred to DVD, 50’, b/w., sound.
Session 2: Weimar in crisis
Date: May 12
Phil Jutzi. Um’s Tägliche Brot(Our daily Bread/Hunger in Waldenburg), 1928-29. 35mm film, 37’, b/w., silent film.
Slatan Dudow. Kuhle Wampe, oder: Wem gehört die Welt?(Who does the world belong to?), 1932. 35mm film 71’, b/w., sound.
Session 3: Aesthetics of the dispossessed
Date: May 1
Mijail Kalatozov. Sol’ Svanetii (Salt for Svanetia), 1930. 35 mm film, 74’, b/w., silent film.
Joris Ivens and Henri Storck. Misère au Borinage (Poverty in the Borinage), 1934. 35 mm film. 34’, b/w., silent film.
Luis Buñuel. Las Hurdes/Tierra sin pan (Las Hurdes/Land without Bread), 1933. 35 mm film. 28’, b/w., sound.
Session 4: The Workers’ Film and Photo League and Paul Strand
Date: May 18
The Film and Photo League. Compilation: Programmes 1 and 2, 1931-34. 16 mm film, 66’, b/w., silent film.
Leo Hurwitz and Paul Strand. Native Land, 1942. 16 mm film, 89’, b/w., sound.
Session 5: The Spanish Civil War
Date: May 19
Roman Karmen and Boris Makasseiev. K sobytiyam v Ispanii(On Events in Spain no.10), 1936. 35 mm film transferred to DVD, 8’. b/w., sound.
Joris Ivens. Spanish Earth, 1937. 35 mm film transferred to Betacam, 52’, b/w., sound.
Herbert Kline. Heart of Spain, 1937. 35 mm film transferred to Betacam, 30’, b/w., sound.
Films courtesy of
British Film Institute, London
Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin
EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam
Filmoteca Española, Madrid
Fondationne Européenne Joris Ivens, Nijmegen
Les Films du Jeudi, Paris
Marceline Loridan Ivens
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Österreichisches Filmmuseum, Vienna
Praesens-Film AG, Zurich