This programme is curated and co-presented by Matevž Jerman from FEKK Short Film Festival (Slovenia) and will be live scored by Scottish musician Gerard Black. Presented in partnership with The Skinny, and with the help of the Austrian Film Museum.
50% of the ticket income for this event will be donated to the Support Filmmakers At War fundraiser launched by Ukrainian political documentary collective Babylon’13. Subject of a GSFF focus in 2015, Babylon’13’s work exposes violations of human rights and democracy. Their fundraiser will support Ukrainian filmmakers, providing equipment and covering expenses, ensuring that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is documented and disseminated from multiple perspectives.
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was known to consider documentary filmmaking as the utmost instrument for ‘public enlightening.’ “If one has good-quality newsreels as well as serious and educational films, it is irrelevant if people entertain themselves with useless films such as those available today,” he stated at the beginning of 1922. Lenin’s beliefs were soon realised, since, on 22 May 1922, the cinemas showed the first of the thirty-three ‘issues’ of the newsreel series Kino-Pravda (‘Cinema-Truths’) by Dziga Vertov. He assembled a group of likeminded co-workers (mostly filmmakers) to travel across the country and record various scenes from people’s lives.
Vertov and his group, an active avant-garde art collective, called themselves Kinoki (a neologism of ‘cinema’ and ‘eye’). Their inspiration stemmed mostly from constructivist and futurist doctrine and, in line with the avant-garde, they advanced their practical work theoretically – by writing manifestos. These cultivated concepts and ideas that were inclined towards art becoming utilitarian and a ‘servant’ of the revolution and the working class. They deemed that the most suitable means of realising their principles was ‘factographic’ presentation of reality in the form of Kino-Pravda (filmed reality), which offered a unique opportunity to satisfy the demand for revolutionary films. Kinoks, or rather their initiator Vertov, published the first of the numerous manifestos in the Kino-Fot newspaper, a project of ‘film constructivists.’ The manifesto titled We represented one of the key texts of the Soviet montage filmmaking. It signified, as Vertov later stressed, “the first proclamation of the new film aesthetics in the Soviet Union, official in its treatment of social ideology, completely foreign to Italian and French avant-garde,” and also initiated “montage as the geometrical essence of movement by suggestively linking images.”
In practice, Vertov mostly devoted his creativity to the montage of the newsreels. He edited the filmed material on the principles by which the filmed scenes were to convincingly realise the new ideas that he developed in his theories and manifestos. The ‘montage’ of the first issues of Kino-Pravda, however, included the material recorded at the request of various state offices. Due to their subject diversity, the editing was a relatively sparse principle of physical linking of individual sequences. It was only Kino-Pravda No. 5 that created a break which introduced the clear levelling of constructivism and ‘cinematography’. To combine the filmed events, it used a ‘linking element’ – a man reading a newspaper. This was a metaphor of Kino-Pravda, the visual manifestation of the printed newsreel of the current events.
In consecutive issues of Kino-Pravda, the Kinoks pursued to encompass a broader scope of news from the most diverse aspects of life in the Soviet Union. They particularly focused on the processes of ‘industrialisation’ and ‘collectivisation’ and other principles that would help them emphasise the role of revolution in the development of a new lifestyle. Vertov mostly dedicated himself to the manners of organising shots – editing processes. Formally, he, therefore, brought forth many novelties. He compacted the extensive material to the action of a single day or an event or, vice verse, as in Kino-Pravda No. 13 (proclaimed by Aleksej Gan as the start of the “new era” in constructing the Soviet “cinematography”) extended a single event, the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution, to a unique analysis of life. This was portrayed by the trinity of time through the present (Lenin’s speech at the Red Square, aerial shots of the cities, factories, fields, and villages), the past (an overview of five years of fights, struggle, shortage, and victory) and the vision of the future (aided by the first accomplishments of the industrialisation – radio station, field mechanisation, a dam, and the motto “Only labour can heal our wounds”).
The principles of Kino-Pravda greatly shaped the development of the documentary film. They are the source of the cinéma vérité phenomenon, a new revolutionary documentary approach from the end of the 1950s. It also influenced the vision of the neo-avant-garde radical film movement of the Dziga Vertov Group led by Jean-Luc Godard at the peak of the revolutionary 1960s. Additionally, it continues to represent an inspiration to contemporary engaged filmmaking in the form of (anti-)newsreel movements worldwide.
Andrej Šprah is Head of the Research and Publishing Department at the Slovenian Cinematheque, Assistant Professor of Visual Arts Programme at The Academy of Visual Arts Ljubljana, and Assistant Professor of Film and Television History and Theory at The Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television at the University of Ljubljana.