This year the Radboud University started a new course on documentary film, called Moving Documentaries. In the framework of this course a group of 15 students visited the Joris Ivens Archives and found out how archival documents can support research and shed new light on context and.content. The case study was Ivens' documentary The Spanish Earth (1937). At first the group watched the documentary in the film theater LUX on large screen. Afterwards they discussed the film and went to the Regional Archives Nijmegen, where the collection of the Joris Ivens Archives are being kept in the vaults. In these vaults the students saw how 'history' is preserved and saved for the future, like the film posters of The Spanish Earth, photos, clippings, the Bell & Howelll film camera, letters, telegrams and other correspondence between Ivens and Luis Bunuel, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos and others involved in this film proudctions and film interviews with Martha Gellhorn, Helen van Dongen and Joris Ivens himself. In the study room the students worked with these materials to do research concerning major issues of documentary film.
The book of Bill Nichols On Documentary is their course book.
General information about the course:
By the end of this course, students will be able to:
- understand and contextualize the documentary as a genre in relation other genres of film.
- comprehend, critically reflect on, and analyze documentary films: their generic characteristics, poetics, production, distribution and consumption;
- critically process diverse theoretical perspectives on the genre,
- apply their skills for observing, describing, analyzing and critiquing a number of case studies;
- reflect critically on the methods and theories used in secondary sources, written samples from peers and the student's own essays.
The genre of the documentary has a long history. Although the English term was not coined before 1926, similar practices have existed since the dawn of film making. Their popularity has been increasing ever since, and in the 21st century this genre has spread across a variety of different media: traditional platforms (such as documentary television and cinema), Netflix but also social media, such as YouTube.
Documentaries are moving in several senses of the word. First, they often have a link with traveling and mobility. This link can be very explicit, as in Michael Palin’s BBC-series Travel around the World in 80 Ways (1989), or more subtle, for instance when considering the filmmaker who travels to distant times and/or places in order to tell the stories of injustices inflicted upon others, or who is driven into exile because of his/her work (like Roberto Hernández, who had to seek assylum in the Netherlands for his 2021 Netflix-documentary Reasonable Doubt: a Tale of Two Kidnappings). In a metaphorical sense, the documentary film invites us to move to a reality still unknown. Second, documentaries can move people in a literal sense, for instance when someone decides to go on a safari after watching National Geographic Channel. Third, they can also move us in an emotional sense, for instance by bringing us to tears and shocking us, as is the case with Enjoy Poverty (2009) by Renzo Martens. In doing so they often try to have an impact on people’s behavior towards the injustices unveiled, with varying degrees of success. Last, many documentaries attempt to change worldviews (and policies), by offering different interpretations of real life ‘facts’, as was the case with Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006) on climate change, or The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2003) by Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, on political events in Venezuela. In doing all this, documentaries have an important impact on knowledge production in the widest sense of the word.
In this course, we will critically explore the art of the documentary film through a variety of examples of documentaries from around the world. Even if documentary films tell us stories about real life, they have a complex relation with truth and reality. Documentary filmmakers use reality as their raw material, to manipulate it into a narrative with a plot and a purpose. At the same time, these narratives are influenced by the media platforms on which they are circulated. We will analyze the complex relations between fiction and reality, (post-)truth and authenticity, engagement and objectivity, advocacy and entertainment, which are at the center of documentary filmmaking as an art and a medium.
On 21 September Tian Wang (1976, Tongxiang 桐乡) was appointed doctor after a succesful defence of her dissertation 'Joris Ivens et la Chine : histoire d'une longue relation' between 1938 and 1988. It was Régis Debray who advised her to study Ivens’ films in the framework of the theories of French historian Marc Ferro ‘Le film, l’agent et produit de l’Histoire’. For Tian Wang it was essential not only to study paper documents, but especially to meet and speak the people involved, both in China and the West. The 572 pages of text and 160 pages of images convincingly proof the unique position the Dutch filmmaker created and continued to maintain during decades. Not only compared to other foreign filmmakrds, but also compared to Chinese directors.
On 17 August 2022 the former chairperson of the DEFA Foundation Ralf Schenk passed away in Berlin. He was a member of the board of the European Joris Ivens Foundation from 2012 to 2015. After a study in journalism at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig he proved himself quickly as a very erudite filmjournalist, among other through his contributions to the important East-German periodical Film und Fernsehen. After the fall of the Wall he broadened his scope to book publications on the history of DEFA, television programmes, interviews with veterans of the German film world, columns in the daily Berliner Zeitung and inlays for DVD-editions.
One of the priorities of his time as director of the DEFA Foundation (2012-2020) was to bring back under the attention the films that Joris Ivens had made in the 1950s for the DEFA. This resulted in two DVD-editions: Lied der Ströme (2015) and Joris Ivens DEFA-dokumentarfilme (2018). Most importantly he was the driving force behind the publication of the comprehensive study by Günter Jordan of the DEFA-years of Ivens. When Marceline Loridan objected to its publication, because she was unable to read the manuscript in the German language, Ralf organised a trip to 61 rue des Saints Pères, where Günter Jordan with the help of a qualified interpreter convinced her of the quality of his work. The elaborate book was published as Unbekannter Ivens (Unknown Ivens, 2018) and formed an essential contributions to the body of Ivens-studies.
In 2020 he retired, cherishing a great number of plans as to what he was going to research and write about during the coming years. His first project was a book about the Bulgarian-German film director Slatan Dudow, the maker of Kuhle Wampe, who was killed in a car crash in the GDR in 1963. A brain tumor prevented Ralf from realising this and many other plans.
We remember Ralf Schenk with enormous gratitude.
Bert Hogenkamp, 26 August 2022, Amsterdam.
Publications by Ralf Schenk and Günter Jordan related to Joris Ivens and the DEFA Studios.
On Monday July 25th the Vietnamese Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr.Nguyen Van Hung, opened an exhibition in the Quang Tri Mine Action Centre (QTMAC) and Restoring the Environment and Neutralizing the effects of the War (RENEW). about Joris Ivens and the Medical Committee The Netherlands-Vietnam (MCNV). The Ivens Foundation in close collaboration with the Vietnam Film Institute created the panels about the relationship of Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan-Ivens with Vietnam between 1965 and 1970. Their support of the liberation struggle resulted in four films, of which Le 17e parallele was filmed in Quang Tri.
Recently a citizen from Montpellier travelled 1200 kilometres to visit the Joris Ivens Archives in order to find his biological father. There are many reasons why people around the world consult the Ivens collection, but this is a very special and personal one. He wanted to look for his father, which he has never known and met, in Ivens’ documentary Peace Will Win (1951)
The Indonesian Diaspora Network Victoria is organizing an exhibition in the Immigration Museum in Melbourne about the international solidarity movement in Australia after the Proclamation of Indonesia's Independence, that united the communities of Indonesians, together with the local Australians, Indians and Chinese that we should celebrate. One of the activities during the weekend of 27-29th of May is the film screening of Indonesia Calling (1946) directed by Joris Ivens, which explores the refusal of seamen and waterside workers to man Dutch ships containing arms and ammunition for attack on Indonesia.