Ivens, Joris

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IVENS, Joris

Nationality: Dutch. Born: Georg Henri Anton Ivens in Nijmegen, Holland, 18 November 1898. Education: Economische Hogeschool, Rotterdam, 1916–17 and 1920–21; studied chemistry and photography at Technische Hochschule, Charlottenberg, 1922–23. Military Service: Lieutenant in Artillery, 1917–18. Family: Married 1) photographer Germaine Krull, 1937 (divorced, 1943); 2) Marceline Loridan. Career: Technical director for CAPI (father's firm selling photographic equipment); travelled to USSR to meet Soviet filmmakers, 1930; made industrial documentaries in Holland, and began association with cinematographer John Fernhout (John Ferno), 1931; returned to USSR, 1932; clandestinely filmed striking Belgian miners for Borinage, 1933; visited New York, formed group, with Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Lillian Hellman, Fredric March, and Luise Rainer, to finance films on contemporary events, 1936; filmed Spanish Earth during Spanish Civil War, 1937; filmed 400 Million in China, 1938; made industrial documentaries, U.S., 1939–40; taught at University of Southern California, 1941; invited by John Grierson to direct Alarme! for national Film Board of Canada, 1942; worked on Why We Fight series, Hollywood, 1943–44; travelled to Sydney, Australia, to make Indonesia Calls, regarded as traitorous act by Dutch authorities, 1945–46; moved to Prague, 1947; taught in Lodz, Poland, 1950–51; moved to Paris, 1957; taught filmmaking in Peking, 1958; filmed in Italy and Africa, 1959–60; taught filmmaking in Cuba, 1960–61; taught in Chile, 1962–63; Ivens Archive established after retrospective at Nederlands Filmmuseum, 1964; made first of Vietnam War documentaries, 1965; made 12-part documentary, Comment Yu-Kong déplaça les montagnes, with Marceline Loridan and others, in China, 1971–75. Member: Filmliga film club, Amsterdam, from 1926. Awards: World Peace Prize, Helsinki, 1955; Palme d'Or for Best Documentary for La Seine a rencontre Paris, Cannes Festival, 1958; Diploma Honoris Causa, Royal College of Art, London, 1978. Died: Of a heart attack, in Paris, 28 June 1989.

Films as Director:


De brandende straal or Wigwam (Flaming Arrow) (+ ed, ph)


Zeedijk-Filmstudie (Filmstudy—Zeedijk) (+ ed, ph)


Etudes de mouvements (+ ed, ph); De Brug (The Bridge) (+ ed, ph)


Branding (The Breakers) (co-d, ed, ph); Regen (Rain) (+ ed, ph) (sound version prepared 1932 by Helen van Dongen); Ik-Film ("I" Film) (co-d, ed, ph) (unfinished); Schaatsenrijden (Skating; The Skaters) (+ ed, ph) (unfinished); Wij Bouwen (We Are Building) (+ co-sc, ed, ph) [footage shot for but not used in Wij Bouwen used for following films: Heien (Pile Driving) (+ co-sc, ed, ph); Nieuwe architectur (New Architecture) (+ co-sc, ed, ph); Caissounbouw Rotterdam (+ co-sc, ed, ph); Zuid Limburg (South Limburg) (+ co-sc, ed, ph)]


N.V.V. Congres (Congres der Vakvereeinigingen) (+ ed, ph); Arm Drenthe (+ ed, ph)


De Tribune film: Breken en bouwen (The Tribune Film:Break and Build) (+ ed, ph); Timmerfabriek (Timber Industry) (+ co-ph, co-ed); Film-notities uit de Sovjet-Unie (News from the Soviet Union) (+ ed); Demonstratie vanproletarische solidariteit (Demonstration of ProletarianSolidarity) (+ ed)


Philips-Radio (Symphonie industrielle, Industrial Symphony) (+ co-ph, co-ed); Creosoot (Creosote) (+ sc, ph, ed)


Pesn o Gerojach (Youth Speaks; Song of Heroes) (+ ed)


Zuyderzee (+ sc, co-ph)


Misére au Borinage (Borinage) (co-d, co-sc, co-ed, co-ph); Nieuwe Gronden (New Earth) (+ sc, co-ph, co-ed, narration)


The Spanish Earth (+ sc, co-ph)


The Four Hundred Million (China's Four Hundred Million) (co-d, sc)


Power and the Land (+ co-sc): New Frontiers (unfinished)


Bip Goes to Town; Our Russian Front (co-d); Worst of FarmDisasters


Oil for Aladdin's Lamp


Alarme! or Branle-Bas de combat (Action Stations!) (+ sc, ed) (released in shorter version Corvette Port Arthur)


Indonesia Calling (+ sc, ed)


Pierwsze lata (The First Years) (+ co-ed, produced 1947)


Pokoj zwyciezy swiat (Peace Will Win) (co-d)


Naprozod mlodziezy (Freundschaft siegt; Friendship Triumphs) (co-d); Wyscig pokoju Warszawa-Berlin-Praga (Friedensfahrt; Peace Tour) (+ sc)


Das Lied der Ströme (Song of the Rivers) (+ co-sc)


La Seine a rencontré Paris (+ co-sc); Die Abenteuer des TillUlenspiegel (The Adventures of Till Eulenspiegel) (co-d)


Before Spring (Early Spring; Letters from China) (+ sc, ed); Six Hundred Million People Are with You (+ ed)


L' Italia non e un paese povero (Italy Is Not a Poor Country) (+ co-sc, co-ed); Demain à Nanguila (Nanguila Tomorrow)


Carnet de viaje (+ sc); Pueblos en armas (Cuba, puebloarmado; An Armed Nation) (+ sc)


. . . à Valparaiso (+ sc); El circo mas pequeño (Le PetitChapiteau)


El tren de la victoria (Le Train de la victoire)


Pour le mistral (+ co-sc); Le Ciel, la terre (The Sky, the Earth) (+ narration, appearance); Rotterdam-Europoort (Rotterdam-Europort; The Flying Dutchman)


Hanoi footage in Loin du Viêt-nam (Far from Vietnam) (co-d)


Le Dix-septième parallèle (The Seventeenth Parallel) (co-d, co-sc); Aggrippès à la terre (co-d); Déterminés à vaincre (co-d)


Rencontre avec le Président Ho Chi Minh (co-d); (next 7 titles made as part of collective including Marceline Loridan, Jean-Pierre Sergent, Emmanuele Castro, Suzanne Fen, Antoine Bonfanti, Bernard Ortion, and Anne Rullier): LePeuple et ses fusils (The People and Their Guns); L' Arméepopulaire arme le peuple; La Guerre populaire au Laos; LePeuple peut tout; Qui commande aux fusils; Le Peuple estinvincible; Le Peuple ne peut rien sans ses fusils


Comment Yukong déplaça les montagnes (in 12 parts totalling 718 minutes) (co-d)


Les Kazaks—Minorité nationale—Sinking (co-d); LesOuigours—Minorité nationale—Sinkiang (co-d)


Une Histoire de vent (co-d)

Other Films:


Jeugd-dag (Days of Youth) (co-ed)


Short film in VVVC Journal series (ed)


Mein Kind (My Child) (Pozner and Machalz) (artistic supervisor)


Die Windrose (The Wind Rose) (Bellon and others)(co-supervisor)


Grierson (Blais) (role as interviewee)


Conversations with Willard Van Dyke (Rothschild) (role as interviewee)


By IVENS: books—

Lied der Ströme, with Valdimir Pozner, Berlin, 1957.

Joris Ivens, edited by W. Klaue and others, Berlin, 1963.

Autobiografie van een Filmer, Amsterdam, 1970.

The Camera and I, Berlin, 1974.

Entretiens avec Joris Ivens, with Claire Devarrieux, Paris, 1979.

Joris Ivens: ou, La Memoire d'un regard, with Robert Destanque,

Paris, 1982.

By IVENS: articles—

Numerous articles in Filmliga (Amsterdam), 1928–32.

"Notes on Hollywood," in New Theatre (New York), 28 October 1936.

"Collaboration in Documentary," in Film (New York), 1940.

"Apprentice to Film," in Theatre Arts (New York), March and April 1946.

"Borinage—A Documentary Experience," in Film Culture (New York), no. 1, 1956.

"Ik-Film," in Skoop (Amsterdam), no. 2, 1964.

"Ivens Issue" of Film Culture (New York), Spring 1972.

"Entretien avec Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan," with J. Grant and G. Frot-Coutaz, in Cinéma (Paris), April 1976.

"Joris Ivens Filming in China," interview with D. Bickley, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), February 1977.

Interview with E. Naaijkems and others, in Skrien (Amsterdam), October 1977.

Interview with E. Decaux and B. Villien, in Cinématographe (Paris), September 1982.

"Borinage," in Revue Belge du Cinéma (Brussels), Winter 1983/

Spring 1984.

Interview with P. van Bueren, in Skoop (Amsterdam), February/March 1984.

Interview with D. Shaffer, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 14, no. 1, 1985.

Interview with Albrecht Betz, "A Source Is Revealed," HistoricalJournal of Film, Radio, and Television (Abingdon, England), vol. 18, no. 4, October 1998.

On IVENS: books—

Hemingway, Ernest, The Spanish Earth, Cleveland, 1938.

Zalzman, Abraham, Joris Ivens, Paris, 1963.

Grelier, Robert, Joris Ivens, Paris, 1965.

Wegner, Hans, Joris Ivens, Dokumentarist den Wahrheit, Berlin, 1965.

Loridan, Marceline, Dix-septieme Parallèle, la guerre du peuple, Paris, 1968.

Meyer, Han, Joris Ivens, de weg naar Vietnam, Utrecht, 1970.

Kremeier, Klaus, Joris Ivens, ein Filmer an den Fronten derWeltrevolution, Berlin, 1976.

Joris Ivens; 50 jaar wereldcineast, Nederlands Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, 1978.

Delmar, Rosalind, Joris Ivens: 50 Years of Film-making, London, 1979.

Cavatorta, Silvano, and Daniele Maggioni, Joris Ivens, Firenze, 1979.

Passek, Jean-Loup, editor, Joris Ivens: Cinquante ans de cinéma, Paris, 1979.

Böker, Carlos, Joris Ivens, Film-Maker: Facing Reality, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.

Brunel, Claude, Joris Ivens, Paris, 1983.

Waugh, Thomas, editor, "Show Us Life": Toward a History andAesthetics of the Committed Documentary, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1984.

Schoots, Hans, Gevaarlijk leven: een biografie van Joris Ivens, Amsterdam, 1995.

On IVENS: articles—

Ferguson, Otis, "Guest Artist," in the New Republic (New York), 15 April and 13 May 1936.

Grenier, Cynthia, "Joris Ivens: Social Realist vs. Lyric Poet," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1958.

"Ivens Issue" of Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 3, 1960.

Waugh, Thomas, "How Yukong Moved the Mountains: Filming the Cultural Revolution," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), 30 December 1976.

Sklar, Robert, "Joris Ivens—The China Close-Up," in AmericanFilm (Washington, D.C.), June 1978.

Hogenkamp, B., "Joris Ivens 50 jaar wereldcineast," in Skrien (Amsterdam), November 1978.

van Dongen, Helen, "'Ik kwam Joris Ivens tegen': 'waarom ben je bij de film gegaan?'," in Skoop (Amsterdam), November 1978.

Cavatorta, Silvano, and Daniele Maggioni, "Joris Ivens" (special issue), Castoro Cinema (Firenze), no. 66, 1979.

Jervis, N., "The Chinese Connection: Filmmaking in the People's Republic," in Film Library Quarterly (New York), no. 1, 1979.

Hogenkamp, B., "Joris Ivens and the Problems of the Documentary Film," in Framework (Norwich, England), Autumn 1979.

Waugh, Thomas, "Travel Notebook—A People in Arms: Joris Ivens' Work in Cuba," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), May 1980.

Waugh, Thomas, and P. Pappas, "Joris Ivens Defended," letters, in Cineaste (New York), Fall 1980.

"Ivens Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 January 1981.

Waugh, Thomas, "Men Cannot Act in Front of the Camera in the Presence of Death," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 12, no. 2, 1982.

"Joris Ivens," in Film Dope (London), July 1983.

"Special Section," in Film und Fernsehen (Potsdam), vol. 14, no. 7, July 1986.

Revue du Cinéma/Image et Son (Paris), March 1989.

China, "The Wind and Joris Ivens," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 58, no. 4, August 1989.

Conomos, John, "An Air of Truth," (obituary), Filmnews, vol. 19, no. 8, September 1989.

Costa, J. M., "Les rêves des hommes," in 24 Images (Montreal), vol. 46, November-December 1989.

Groenewout, E. van't, "Ich Hasse Stillstand," in Film und Fernsehen (Potsdam), vol. 18, no. 1, January 1990.

Schulz, D., "Hommage fuer Joris Ivens," in Film und Fernsehen (Potsdam), vol. 21, no. 4, 1993.

On IVENS: film—

Hudon, Wieslaw, A chacun son Borinage, Belgium, 1978.

* * *

From his debut with The Bridge in 1928, Joris Ivens made over 50 documentary films. A staunch advocate of a socialist society, Ivens consistently attacked fascism and colonialism in his films made after 1930. His first two films, The Bridge and Rain, are rather abstract. Here Ivens's main concern is the elaboration of a varied, often breathtaking, rhythm of images. In this, he appears to be indebted to the French and German avant-garde films, notably those by Ruttmann and Man Ray.

In 1930 Ivens visited the USSR at the invitation of Pudovkin. The compelling expressiveness of Russian agit-prop films had a deep influence upon Ivens in shaping his unique and powerful style. According to Ivens, films should convey social and political insights by confronting the public directly with reality. This analytical and didactic viewpoint was exemplified in Komsomol, the first film Ivens made in Russia. His 1934 film Misére au Borinage not only shows in pitiful and often violent images the miserable conditions under which the Belgian coalminers lived and worked; the film also indicates that the desperate situation of the workers follows necessarily from a specific social order. To deepen his analysis and to strengthen the urgency of his message, Ivens reconstructed a number of scenes, such as the May Day celebration. This procedure also reflects Ivens's conviction that a documentary film is an emotional presentation of facts. Ivens has said that the maker of a documentary film should be in search of truth. To attain truth, one must have solidarity with the people whose situation is depicted. Mutual confidence and understanding are essential to a good documentary film.

Ivens's techniques bear the mark of such filmmakers as Eisenstein and Pudovkin. In addition to developing specific ways of shooting and styles of montage, Ivens has always attached great importance to spoken commentary. In Spanish Earth, a film about the Spanish civil war, Ernest Hemingway speaks the commentary; Jacques Prévert does so in La Seine a rencontré Paris. Commentary plays a secondary role in the films Ivens made during the 1970s, notably in How Yukong Moved the Mountains. In this documentary epos about daily life in China after the cultural revolution, people tell about their own situation. Ivens's style here is descriptive, with many long sequences and with less dramatic montage.

Ivens was one of the founders in 1926 of the Dutch Film League, which united a number of intellectuals and Dutch filmmakers. Their efforts to promote quality films included publishing a review, organizing film screenings, and inviting important foreign avant-garde filmmakers to give talks. Among these were René Clair and Man Ray; Ivens's contacts with Pudovkin and Eisenstein also date to this period. Ivens's contributions to Dutch film culture are immense, although he remained a controversial figure. His manifest sympathy for the struggle of the Indonesian people against colonialism (Indonesia Calling) brought him into conflict with the Dutch government, and until 1956 Ivens was deprived of his Dutch passport.

His films have examined important social and political issues. From 1938 till 1945 he lived in the United States. Power and the Land is about the improvements in farming brought about by the use of electricity. With Our Russian Front Ivens intended to urge the Americans to enter World War II and to support the Russians. The film was financed by Ivens himself and some of his New York Russian friends. He hoped to make more films of this kind, but the project titled Letters to the President was coolly received. It led to only one film, A Sailor on Convoy Duty to England, which was financed by the National Film Board of Canada. In the 1950s Ivens worked in Eastern Europe and The First Years shows the transformation of a capitalist society into a socialist one; the film concentrates on episodes from postwar life in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.

In 1956 the Dutch government returned Ivens's passport; he then took up residence in Paris. After that he worked in Latin America (Cuba, Chile) and even more extensively in Asia (Vietnam, Laos, and China). Travel Notebook is about daily life in Cuba; An Armed People shows how the militia of the Cuban people captures a small group of counter-revolutionaries. Le Train de la victoire is a report on the election campaign of Salvador Allende, later president of Chile. Ivens also taught Vietnamese filmmakers, and engagement with the cause of the Vietnamese people manifests itself in such films as The Threatening Sky and The 17th Parallel. Ivens always had great influence on new technical developments in the domain of film equipment. He hailed the professionalization of the 16mm camera as a big step forward, since it enabled the camera to take part in the action. He taught at numerous film schools and advised many colleagues. In the 1950s he was an advisor to the Defa Studios (GDR) and collaborated on many films there. Together with a number of leftist French filmmakers (Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda, and others), Ivens made the filmic pamphlet of solidarity Loin du Viêt-nam. For Ivens the documentary film provided the only possibility of surviving as an artist outside the field of commercial films. He always succeeded in financing his projects on such terms that he conserved maximum artistic freedom and full responsibility for the final product. This even holds for the two films which he made at an early stage in his career and which were commissioned by commercial firms (Creosoot and Philips-Radio).

Within his lifetime Ivens became a legend. His films comment on many events which shaped the modern world. His art, his intelligence, his sophisticated political views, and his deep sincerity account for the unique position Joris Ivens holds among documentary filmmakers.

—Dorothee Verdaasdonk