Visible Evidence 2021

Global Histories of Workers Film and Video

Bjørn Sørenssen
Diane Wei Lewis
David E. James
Nam Lee
Respondent: Tanya Goldman
Wed, Dec 15
90 Min
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Film solidarity across the borders: European connections in the Norwegian workers´ film movement in the 1930s

In 1936, the Norwegian Labour Party (DNA) for the first time was using film as a propaganda medium on a large scale in a Parliament election campaign. Two propaganda films were produced, 40 prints were distributed, and were reportedly seen by an audience of 300,000 in a country with a population of 3.5 million and contributed to an election result that would put the Labour Party in charge of Norwegian politics until 1965. While the Norwegian labour movement had used film sporadically in the previous years, the 1936 election became the definite breakthrough for the most successful workers´ film movement in Europe in the years leading up to World War II.

However, inspiration for these activities came from other countries. The main inspiration was, of course, Soviet film — the Labour party was the only West European social democratic party to have been a formal member of the Communist International. Norway was also one of the few European countries where Eisenstein´s Battleship Potemkin was not banned. There were also close ties with the varied attempts at creating a workers´ film movement in Germany prior to 1933. Another important source of inspiration were the film activities of the Austrian Social democratic party (SPÖ). This paper aims at showing how such international exchange functioned as models for film production and distribution of film for the Norwegian working class in this period.

Bjørn Sørenssen

Bjørn Sørenssen is professor emeritus at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway. He has published extensively on Norwegian film history, documentary film history and theory, and digital media. He has a strong interest in the history of alternative media and has recently published a chapter on Norwegian film maker Olav Dalgard in the anthology A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925-1950 (eds. Hjartarson, Kollnitz, Stounbjerg, Ørum) Leiden: Bill/Rodopi 2019.

Cinema Studies: Workers’ Film and Continuing Adult Education in Interwar Japan

This presentation examines the Proletarian Film League of Japan (Prokino, 1929-1934) within the context of growing international interest in continuing adult education during the early decades of the twentieth century. In particular, this talk will explain Prokino’s connections to university- and community-based institutions that supported workers’ and farmers’ continuing education—such as the New Man Society, the Tokyo Imperial University Settlement, and agricultural cooperatives and federations.

Compulsory education was introduced to Japan in 1886. By 1907, all children were required to attend school for at least six years. Although this requirement was not extended again until the post-WWII Allied Occupation, Japanese social reformers became interested in adult education as early as the 1920s. In particular, the rapid urbanization of Tokyo, the universal suffrage movement, and the spread of radical political thought sparked widespread interest in workers’ civic education on both sides of the political spectrum.

In examining Prokino’s pedagogical writings and activities, I approach Prokino as a social organization that used cinema pragmatically—as a tool for education and political mobilization. Prokino’s connections to educators, activists, and reformers allow us to understand how activism, arts, and civic education intersected in the interwar period. I argue that this approach represents a break with the “national cinema studies” scholarly paradigm, which has primarily situated Prokino’s work within a developmental narrative of Japanese film history. In contrast, I situate Prokino’s film education activities globally and attempt to understand Prokino’s relationships to elite intellectuals, as well as the working class.

Diane Wei Lewis

Diane Wei Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. She specializes in film and media cultures in Japan, with a focus on gender, emotion, and labor. Her essays have appeared in Cinema Journal, positions: asia critique, Feminist Media Histories, and Screen. She is author of Powers of the Real: Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2019) and is currently working on two projects: one on Prokino and one on women’s labor and 1980s information technology.

Workers’ Cinema and Participatory Practices in South Korea

Before the 1980s, government censorship had almost entirely repressed documentary filmmaking in South Korea. But with the emergence of the Minjung Movement and the struggle for democracy, university students created clandestine film clubs to study political film and they began to use Super 8 to document their own political resistance and to create community life. As these projects matured, the students affiliated themselves with both agricultural and industrial workers, initially making films about their political organizing. But, as had happened similarly with the radical newsreels in the US in the late 1960s, these attempts to make films about the working class quickly transformed into teaching and assisting working-class activists in making their own films and integrating film, and eventually video, into their political activity. Rather than being represented, the workers began to represent themselves. As a result, a spectrum of democratic productive relationships between filmmakers and workers were inaugurated. We will review some of the major film collectives, chart in more detail the emergence of Labor News Production (LNP) in 1989, the most important participatory communication project, and briefly consider some of the films made by other organizations, including Sanggye-dong Olympics (Sanggye-dong Community 1988), and The Night Before the Strike (Jangsangotmae film group, 1990).

David E. James

David E. James taught in the School of Cinematic Arts at USC. His teaching and research interests focused on avant-garde cinema, East-Asian cinema, and working-class culture. His books include Rock ‘N’ Film: Cinema’s Dance With Popular Music and Power Misses II: Cinema, Asian and Modern, and the edited collection, The Hidden Foundation: Cinema and the Question of Class.

Nam Lee

Nam Lee (co-author) is Associate Professor of Film Studies at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Chapman University. The 1980s in South Korean cinema has been one of her main research interests, and her publications includes articles on the influence of minjung aesthetics in Lee Jang-ho’s early 1980s films, socialist realism in The Night Before the Strike, and the book The Films of Bong Joon Ho.

Respondent: Tanya Goldman

Tanya Goldman is currently a PhD candidate in Cinema Studies at New York University (defense scheduled for August). Her research explores the history of nontheatrical film distribution as a political practice. Her dissertation articulates this idea through the career of American Film and Photo League member-turned-nontheatrical film distributor Tom Brandon. Her essays related to the distribution of radical documentaries have been published in Cineaste, Feminist Media Histories, the Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, and edited volume InsUrgent Media from the Front: A Media Activism Reader.