The Afsluitdijk (Enclosure Dam), contructed between 1927 and 1933 is the 32 kilometer long dike which protects the Netherlands against water and flooding. Three designs of light and interaction ICOON AFSLUITDIJK developed by Daan Roosegaardeenhances its iconic status and will be opened for public on 17 November. Joris Ivens’ impressive footage about the construction of this dam will be part of the activities.

Now after almost 85 years the Afsluitdijk is in need of a thorough renovation. The Dutch state together with the surrounding municipalities and provinces have joined forces to lead an ambitious programme to protect and safeguard the future of the dike. Rijkswaterstaatwill strengthen the Afsluitdijk in the coming years to safeguard its future and to continue to protect the Netherlands against the force of water, its renovation will start in 2018. The government has taken this opportunity to give room to more initiatives. As part of the renovation programme, Daan Roosegaarde’s Icoon Afsluitdijk enhances the iconic status of the Afsluitdijk with a second layer of light and interaction. The three designs of light and interaction developed by Daan Roosegaardeand his team are entitled Gates of Light, Windvogel and Glowing Nature. They can be viewed by all the 17th of November after sunset. The exhibition is free of charge.
Gates of Light
Gates of Light is a futuristic entrance at both sides of the dike. Inspired by retroreflective wings of butterflies, Daan Roosegaardebrings a new light on the 60 monumental floodgates which were designed by Dirk Roosenburg in 1932, the grandfather of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. They have been restored with a retroreflective layer and illuminate by the reflection from the cars headlamps.

Windvogel is a tribute to the Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels. Ockels had the dream to realise smart kites which generate power by having them stay aloft for long periods of time. Each of the Windvogel kites generates from 20 to 100 kW which can supply energy for 200 households.

Glowing Nature
Glowing Nature shows the beauty of nature on the Afsluitdijk by means of an encounter between man, biology and technology. The exhibition, located in one of the historical bunkers, provides an interactive experience with live algae, one of the oldest microorganisms in the world. Only when you perfectly maintain and take care of these algae do they give natural light for an extended period of time.

A long story of Joris Ivens filming the Enclosure Dam

Joris Ivens followed the construction of this large water works with his film camera between 1929 and 1933. It resulted in three films with the most impressive sequence of the closure of the dam.
The three acts of New Earth (1933) were compiled on the basis of film sequences shot over a period of four years. The first two acts are an abbreviated and dynamic montage of the film Zuiderzee Works, which was originally part of the union film We Are Building. Ivens and his crew worked on these two acts from June 1929 to May 1932, the moment at which the sea dike was closed. Ivens prepared the third act – a compilation of newsreel images and some minor staged scenes – on his own initiative in the summer and latter part of 1933.

The complex genesis and evolution of New Earth begins in May 1929 while Ivens was still hard at work filming rain showers for Rain. E. Sinoo, secretary of the Dutch construction workers union (the Algemene Nederlandse Bouwarbeidersbond – A.N.B.B.), asked Ivens if he would be interested in making a film about the activities of Dutch construction workers. The union wanted to celebrate its tenth anniversary with a film that could be used to attract new members.[1] Up to that point, Ivens had only made small-scale films such as The Bridge, and without an external commission. Now he was being offered money for the job, and as he himself put it, on a subject that was enough to make his mouth water. He started immediately, drifting from building site to building site, from the dike at Wieringermeer to the railway line being built in South Limburg, from the sea works caisson in Rotterdam to the new building for De Telegraaf in Amsterdam. The sprawling project had to be ready by January 1930. An important contribution to the film was to come from the Zuiderzee works, a construction project that had started in 1920, although Cornelis Lely’s original plans dated back to 1891. The project was the largest of its kind in the world and cost one billion guilders.

An exciting scene with epic appeal

With an eye for spectacle, Ivens shot the climax of the film only weeks after receiving the commission, the completion of the dike surrounding the first polder – Wieringermeer – on July 21st 1929. ‘I spent an entire month in the villages of the Zuiderzee where I had organised my own information service. If something special was going on, I was warned about it by telegraph, thanks to which I have become the only filmmaker to have been able to capture the closure of the Wieringermeer dike, a historical moment of reclamation’.[2] By filming the closure from the perspective of the sea, the dike, the cranes and the dike workers, the struggle between sea and land takes on epic proportions, thereby artistically transcending the customary level of such event coverage.

These extensive public works provided the ideal subject for aerial filming, and Ivens, fascinated since childhood by airplanes, grabbed the opportunity with both hands. At one point he almost caused a fatal accident when he set his camera on top of the plane’s dual steering mechanism, unknowingly interfering with the forward pilot’s capacity to steer. The camera was removed in the nick of time, however. Ivens’ associates Willem Bon and Lou Lichtveld had a similarly terrifying experience when the floor of the plane collapsed under Bon 1600 metres above the water ‘much to the horror of Lou Lichtveld, who was sitting in the rear and turning every shade of green and yellow for fear I would fall through the hole’.[3]

On October 5th 1929, Ivens showed initial fragments of the film to a journalist who reported that: ‘the hard labour of the dike workers, the colossal movements of the cranes, the entire titanic struggle with the water promised to be majestic’.[4] In November, Ivens started work on the montage of We Are Building, which was to last to the very day of the premiere, ‘His enormous attic is a jumble of strips of film. A few thousand metres of celluloid are hanging over washing lines, piled up on tables, or rolled up on the kinoskoop, an instrument designed to allow the film to be viewed in its entirety. And in the middle of the chaos, the result of months of labour, Joris Ivens is at work’.[5] At that point, Ivens decided not only to include Zuiderzee Works as part of We Are Building, but also to release it later as an independent film.

The one-hundred and fifty minute We Are Building premiered on January 4th 1930. The final three acts with an abridged version of (the film recordings) of the Zuiderzee works were praised to the heavens. The following day, the management of the Zuiderzee works and building contractors employed by the Society for the Implementation of the Zuiderzee Works (Maatschappij tot Uitvoering van de Zuiderzeewerken – M.U.Z.) were shown all five acts of the Zuiderzee works film. Working against the clock, the Film League screened yet another version at the end of January, feverishly cobbled together by Ivens’ CAPI associates using thousands of separate segments of negative. Ivens had taken the original with him on his first trip to Russia.[6]

A giant leap forward

In the first week of February, Ivens screened his films for an audience of Russian filmmakers in Moscow, among them Vsevolod Pudovkin. A year earlier, the renowned director had seen The Bridge and Rain during a visit to Amsterdam, but after the screening of Zuiderzee Works Pudovkin was pleasantly surprised: ‘What had happened? All the significant shortcomings that had marked Ivens’ earlier works had miraculously disappeared. He has taken a giant leap forward rather than single step. [...] Everything has suddenly come to life in the organised dynamic of actual labour.[7] Ivens travelled through the Soviet Union with these complimentary words under his hat. In the meantime, during a screening of the Zuiderzee works as a component of We Are Building on February 8th in his home town of Nijmegen, Ivens’ mother was moved to tears and presented with a bouquet of flowers accompanied by spontaneous and loud applause. The audience was informed that Ivens himself was to be seen in the guise of a pilot in the fourth act, an announcement that also elicited applause.

On his return from Russia in April, Ivens completed the definitive montage of the independent cinema version of Zuiderzee Works, which premiered on May 16th. In the summer months, Ivens and his associates continued filming the Wieringermeer polder, the reclamation of which was completed in August, a year after the closing of the sea dike, He then announced a new film that would deal with the cultivation of this first Zuiderzee polder to be entitled New Earth, unaware at the time that it would take a further three years before he could complete the film.[8] In the years that followed, he had his hands full with the Philips film, on which he worked from September 1930 to September 1931, and immediately thereafter Komsomol, from October 1931 to January 1933. The amount of work prompted the establishment of Studio Ivens in the winter of 1930, an informal group of associates who helped Ivens with filming and montage.

New Earth

In October 1931,after the French premiere of his first sound film Philips Radio and immediately before his second trip to the Soviet Union to film Komsomol, Ivens announced his plans to add sound to New Earth. He was convinced that there was a need abroad for a film that explained why the Dutch were always constructing dikes and polders. He made arrangements to this end with Marcel l’Herbier, a renowned French filmmaker who was active in several domains of the film industry and had established a production company for making documentaries with sound under the name Cinéphonic.[9] The sea dike was to be closed in the middle of 1932 and Studio Ivens kept abreast of events in Ivens’ absence ‘from week to week, newsreel style, so to speak’. ‘The method was to track every development as it happened, to be able to determine what could be used at a later date’.[10] According to plan, Studio Ivens’ six associates filmed the draining and cultivation of Wieringermeer polder.[11] On May 28th 1932, while Ivens himself was filming in the Urals, the 34 kilometre sea dike was finally closed and Ivens’ associates filmed the event from the air, from the sea and from the dike itself. When he returned briefly to the Netherlands two months later, taking a break from his Russian shooting schedule, he noted: ‘I yearn not to leave it with the closure of the dike alone, no matter how heroic it was, but to illustrate the whole process, from water to bread, and the cultural exploitation of the new earth’.[12]

On his return from the Soviet Union, Ivens commuted between the Netherlands and Paris, where he had moved in with Helen van Dongen. In spite of the hectic pace, he found time in February 1933 to give some presentations for the Zuiderzee staff ‘Gathered in Recreation’ in North Holland. Jan Ringeling, chief engineer of the Zuiderzee works with whom had become close friends over the years, introduced the presentations. In a remarkable letter, however, Ringeling declared that he was fed up with the promises Ivens had made about the film: ‘... but why all the claptrap in advance, I plan to do this, that and the other, when if you ask me you know you’re not going to do this, that and the other. You know, as a friend I appreciate you more than you do me, that’s what I prefer and there’s no point in going on about it, but Jesus, some people have a hard time giving up their ego now and then’.[13] Ivens made amends by sending him a gift: the three volume edition of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother.

Ivens commenced preparations for the completion of New Earth when he was in Paris.[14] He invited tenders for the addition of the soundtrack and, together with Helen van Dongen, set about the montage of the silent images from Zuiderzee Works in March. In the meantime, Ivens made it clear in a number of lectures and interviews that he was unfavourably disposed towards his earlier films. During an Ivens Festival in Paris organised for a sophisticated audience of major film company representatives and filmmakers such as Jean Lodz and writer André Malraux, Ivens was highly critical of his work, including Zuiderzee Works.[15] His earlier films, he claimed, were too shallow and lacked the dramatic human element. They appeared to be without objective and to lack true purpose, he explained to his listeners, the result of a filmmaker who did not take a stand, and make his audience think and draw conclusions. A short time later he was even more explicit when addressing a group of communists: ‘Artists shouldn’t descend to the level of the workers, but should participate directly in the daily struggle. The struggle of the proletariat is the struggle of the artist. The camera’s every shot is at the service of the class struggle’.[16] This revolutionary idea was shared by a large group of artists, writers and intellectuals in Paris, who had joined forces in the AEAR – l’Association des Écrivains et des Artistes Révolutionnaires. Some of the latter became lifetime friends in that year: writer Vladimir Pozner, film critic Georges Sadoul and the filmmakers Henri Storck and Luis Buñuel. Film as a weapon in the class struggle became the focal theme of two films Ivens made that year: New Earth and Borinage.


At the beginning of August, after a bout of asthma, Ivens and Helen van Dongen descended on a small rural hotel in the village of Joinville on the river Marne and opposite the studios of Pathé-Nathan. In spite of money problems, Ivens continued to shoot additional material for the final act of the film, including the animations, the compilation of newsreel images and some minor staged scenes, such as the unemployed labourers on the dike and the burning of the grain. ‘I work all day long, beginning at six-thirty. New Earth has become, as it were, the second part of the Zuiderzee film. The second part is an economic argument, concerning the crisis, the destruction of produce and unemployment’.[17] A visiting journalist observed: ‘He wants to make films that activate the masses, that don’t offer their audience false illusions or suss them to sleep. His revolutionary temperament combined with his hard and professional approach make it possible for him to achieve his plans. He is aggressive’. Rage is particularly evident in the final act of the film when Ivens roars into the microphone, denouncing the injustice done to the labourers who had constructed the polders but were not given the chance to profit from them. Initial plans were made for Robert de Roos, a young Dutch composer studying in Paris, to write the score, but Hanns Eisler, who had fled Germany for Paris on account of the Nazis, joined Ivens at the last moment. They had successfully cooperated over a year earlier on the music for the film Komsomol and both men got on well together at the personal level. Decades later, Eisler was to claim that he had devised the last political act of New Earth and provided the text.[18] This remains open to question, especially if one bears in mind that Ivens kept different versions of the commentary texts and wrote: ‘I read in my own commentary’.[19] It is more likely that the book Our Daily Bread (‘Chljeb nasj nassoesjnyi’), written and published in Paris in 1933 by the Russian journalist Ilya Ehrenburg, served as his main source of inspiration. Written in response to the grain crisis, texts, statistics, situations and characters from the book are included literally and figuratively in the final act of New Earth. ‘The Ballad of the Sack Throwers’, the music for which Eisler had composed two years earlier, reinforces this hypothesis. Eisler related with enthusiasm to the German writer Bertolt Brecht that Ivens had been forced to purchase three sacks of grain and toss them over the side of a boat on the Seine in full view of the camera.[20] Ivens evidently went to a great deal of trouble to assemble the newsreel images necessary to highlight the shrill contrasts of the concluding act, so much so that certain scenes had to be recreated on the spot.

New Earth and Borinage

From September 19th to December 2nd, Ivens worked together with the Belgian filmmaker Henri Storck on the filming of Borinage, such that the latter’s sharp condemnation of repression – after a miners’ strike – coincided with his putting the finishing touches to New Earth.[21] Both films have a great deal in common: they depict a local situation that takes on international dimensions on account of the worldwide economic crisis, represented by a compilation of news images from across the globe highlighting class conflict. American news images of the destruction of milk in Wisconsin were incorporated into both New Earth and Borinage. The same can be said for self-shot images of a hunger march from Lille to Paris, the emptying of a sack of grain, a table scene with the mineworker’s family Mouffle and a meeting of mineworkers. While the filming of Borinage continued, the sound recordings for New Earth took place at the end of October in the Neuilly-sur-Seine studios, where Ivens had worked on Philips Radio. An ensemble of 15 musicians under Eisler’s leadership and in the presence of Ivens and Storck performed the stirring score that was to add even more excitement and dynamics to the closure of the sea dike.[22] Eisler reused earlier material from the film Kuhle Wampe (1932, Dudow, Brecht), echoes of which can also be heard in his cantata ‘Die Mutter’ (1935) and Brecht’s ‘Lob der Dialektik’.[23]

For ‘The Ballad of the Sack Throwers’, an existing song by Eisler intended as the film’s final number, Ivens found a Dutch chorister in a Catholic church in Paris who was willing to record both the French and the Dutch versions of the song for the same price.

After filming the final shots of Borinage, Ivens hurried back to Paris where New Earth / Nouvelle Terre premiered on December 14th in Cinéma des Champs Elysées. ‘Paris premier great success’ was the headline in De Telegraaf. The paper also noted the presence of Ivens’ first wife – the photographer Germaine Krull – in the audience together with filmmakers Jean Painlevé and Alberto de Cavalcanti and the Dutch Honorary Consul. The applause refused to subside at the close, although Het Handelsblad also observed: ‘Part of the audience appeared to be upset by the [film’s] tenor and insisted that it ought not to be screened in its present form’. The observation was evidently accurate. Beginning with France, radical intervention on the part of the censors became the norm in several countries. Additional problems emerged from different quarters: the French producers ACE had the negative seized because they did not agree with the artistic liberties Ivens had taken during the montage.[24] While Ivens won the legal action he had instituted against ACE in April 1934, he had already said farewell to France and his fatherland. In May of the same year he left for the Soviet Union and he moved to the United States at the beginning of 1936.[25] New Earth was not even presented to the board of censors in the Netherlands and as a result it was not screened. Thirty-one years were to pass before Ivens was to make another film in the Netherlands.

[1] Commissioned by the Central Union of Transport Workers, the Polygon documentary En gij, kameraad? by Cor Aafjes and Jan Jansen premiered in November 1928, encouraging other unions to commission their own films to celebrate anniversaries and to support membership campaigns. See Bert Hogenkamp, De Nederlandse documentaire film 1920-1940, Amsterdam 1988, p. 33-34.


[2] ‘Joris Ivens en zijn werk’, interview with Joris Ivens in Het Volk on the day of the premiere of We Are Building, January 4th 1930.

[3] Willem Bon in an interview with Bert Hogenkamp, Edith Taekema and Herman de Wit, 1987. Cited in Bert Hogenkamp, De Nederlandse documentaire film 1920-1940, Amsterdam 1988, p. 54.

[4] ‘De kansen der filmkunst’, Chr. de Graaff in an interview with Joris Ivens in Algemeen Handelsblad, October 5th 1929.


[6] Anon., ‘Filmliga Amsterdam’, in Filmliga III 4, January 31st – February 1st 1930, p. 67.

[7] ‘Joris Ivens’, by Vsevolod Pudovkin, in Filmliga III 8, May 1930, p. 102-104.

[8] ‘Nieuwe films van Joris Ivens’, De Telegraaf, September 15th 1930.

[9]Algemeen Handelsblad,May 19th 1933; letter dated March 10th 1933 from Jean Dréville in which he informs Ivens that Marcel l’Herbier wants to see Zuiderzee and a letter from Ivens to Jean Dréville dated March 15th 1933, JIA. See also Marcel l’Herbier in a speech about Ivens given on April 17th 1950, cited in Wolfgang Klaue (ed.), Joris Ivens, 1963 Berlin, p. 57. The contract fell through.

[10]Het Volk, October 9th 1931.

[11] The Wieringermeer was finally drained in August 1930 and the new land cultivated in 1934.

[12] ‘Joris Ivens in ons land’, Het Volk, July 21st 1932.

[13] Jan Ringeling, letter to Joris Ivens, March 16th 1933. Joris Ivens Collection, BiFi, Paris.

[14] It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Ivens was instructed by the Mehzrabpom film studio to return to the capitalist West and actively participate in the production of left wing films. The studio supported film projects by prominent filmmakers and writers, including Hans Richter, Erwin Piscator, Béla Balász, and Gustav von Wangenheim. Such Moscow resident ex-pats had the potential to form ‘film cells of proletariat art’ in the West. See Babette Gross, Willy Münzenberg: A Political Biography, 1974 Michigan, p. 168. If this was true, Thomas Waugh claims, then the support given to Ivens’ was the most successful. See Joris Ivens and the Evolution of the Radical Documentary, 1926-1946, 1981 Ann Arbor, p. 149 and 177.

[15]N.R.C.,February 21st 1933, Het Volk, February 23rd 1933; both articles relate to the Gala Festival of February 18th 1933, Studio 28, 1933.


[16]De Tribune, March 27th and October 3rd 1933.

[17]Het Volk, August 11th 1933.

[18]Hanns Eisler in an interview with Hans Bunge from between 1958 and 1961, published under the title Fragen Sie mehr über Brecht; cited in Schoots, Gevaarlijk leven. Een biografie van Joris Ivens, Amsterdam 1995, p. 122.

[19] Joris Ivens, The Camera and I, Berlin 1969, p. 98.

[20] Thomas Waugh already notes this in his 1981 dissertation Joris Ivens and the Evolution of the Radical Documentary, 1926-1946, 1982 Ann Arbor, p. 21.

[21]In both his autobiographies, Ivens deals with New Earth after Borinage, leading several subsequent authors to maintain a mistaken chronological order. See, for example, Thomas Waugh, Joris Ivens and the Evolution of the Radical Documentary, 1926-1946 or Richard M. Barsam, Documentary. A Critical History.

[22] Storck was present at the recordings on October 25th 1933. See Henri Storck, ‘Chronologie van de productie van de film’, diary entries on the filming of Borinage, published in Bert Hogenkamp and Henri Storck, De Borinage. De mijnwerkersstaking van 1932 en de film van Joris Ivens en Henri Storck, Amsterdam/Leuven 1982, p. 27.

[23]André Stufkens, Rondom Joris Ivens, wereldcineast, 1898-1934, Nijmegen 1988, p. 162.

[24] ‘Nieuwe gronden’, N.R.C., January 10th 1934. The third act is missing from a French version of New Earth in the collection of the Cinémathèque Française. The second act concludes with the distributor’s credits (ACE), suggesting that this amputated version was brought into circulation in France.

[25] The Alliance cinématographique européenne (ACE) offered Nouvelle Terre packaged together with Flaherty’s Man of Aran and other documentaries during the ’34-’35 season.


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