In keeping with the theme of the Frankfurt Conference on historically specific crises and conflicts, this panel returns to the relationship between Berlin, Moscow, and New York in the 1927 – 1935 interwar period. The legacy of documentary on the Left was consequence of a mammoth organizational feat, an international mobilization tributary to the Communist International after the 1917 Russian revolution. Just one operation jump-started the national photo leagues—the Internationale Arbeithilfe (IAH), in English the Workers’ International Relief.
In November, 1927, Willi Münzenberg established Weltfilm for international distribution of non-commercial film. Headquartered in Berlin, the new organization established exchanges in 15 countries, supplying workers’ groups and film societies. By 1930, the Workers’ International Relief fund was supporting workers’ photo leagues in France, Spain, Scotland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Czechosolvakia, Austria, Japan, Great Britain, France, and the U.S. in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Minneapolis, Los Angeles. In Germany, in addition to Berlin, the IH was operating in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Munich, and Leipzig. While we know that by the end of 1931, 45 full length titles were in distribution in New York, we are only beginning to grasp the worldwide spread of what has been called the Münzenberg media “trust” arm. The significance to the field is undeniable given that this organization, beginning in the 1920s, distributed Vertov’s Kino-Pravda titles and the dangerous Battleship Potemkin (1925) as well as countless others.
This workshop asks: What local trouble did key titles encounter? How, we want to know, did the international screenings compare with those in Germany? What do we know about the spread of Communist-aligned Leftwing film culture in Germany? This panel is a tie-up with the Panel titled “Global Histories of Worker Films and Video” which covers Norway, Japan, and South Korea.
Anastasia Kostina is a PhD candidate in the joint program in Film and Media Studies & Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. Her dissertation research focuses on the career of Soviet documentary pioneer Esfir Shub. Anastasia’s broader academic interests include documentary history and theory, Soviet and post-Soviet documentary, transgressions between documentary and fiction, history of women’s cinema, environmental film. In recent years Anastasia’s writings on documentary cinema have been published in Feminist Media Histories, Film Quarterly, Senses of Cinema and KinoKultura.
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.
Malte Hagener is Professor in Media and Film Studies at Philipps-Universität Marburg. Publications include Moving Forward, Looking Back. The European Avant-garde and the Invention of Film Culture, 1919-1939 (Amsterdam University Press 2007). The Emergence of Film Culture. Knowledge Production, Institution Building and the Fate of the Avant-garde in Europe, 1919-1945 (London: Berghahn 2014), for which he won the Limina prize for best international film book. He is also the director of the DFG-funded project media/rep/ – Institution of an Open Access-repository for media studies (https://mediarep.org/) and principal investigator of the DFG-funded graduate research group „Configurations of film“ (https://konfigurationen-des-films.de/en/).
Thomas Tode is a freelance filmmaker, writer, and curator, based in Hamburg. He focuses on essay film, the Soviet film avant-garde, and political documentary film. Furthermore films about architecture, about archeology, and the films of the ‘re-education’. His curatorial projects include PhotoFilm! (National Gallery of Art Washington, 2012; Tate Modern London, 2010), and bauhaus & film (Barbican Centre London, 2012; Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Hamburg 2009), he has published books on Johan van der Keuken, Chris Marker, photo-film, essay-film, Bauhaus & film, and Potemkin-Meisel. He is the author of Dziga Vertov –Die Vertof-Sammlung im Osterreichischen Filmmuseum (2006), and Die linke Filmkultur der Weimarer Republik/Left Wing Film Culture of the Weimar Republic (2019).
Jane M. Gaines is Professor of Film at Columbia University, and Professor Emerita of Literature and English at Duke University. In 2018 she received the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Distinguished Career Award. She is author of three award-winning books: Contested Culture: The Image, the Voice and the Law (North Carolina, 1991) and Fire and Desire: Mixed Race Movies in the Silent Era (Chicago, 2001) and Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries? (Illinois, 2018). Her articles on intellectual property and piracies, documentary theory and radicalism, feminism and film, early cinema, and critical race theory have appeared in Cinema Journal, Screen, Critical Inquiry, Cultural Studies, Framework, Camera Obscura, and Women and Performance. Most recently she has been engaged in a critique of the “historical turn” in film and media studies and is part of a group researching the internationalization of workers film and photo leagues in the 1930s.