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Svilova, Elizaveta (1900–1975)

Svilova, Elizaveta (1900–1975)

Soviet filmmaker. Born in 1900; died in 1975; married Dziga Vertov (d. 1954), a documentary filmmaker.

Member of the Kino-eye group; collaborated on Vertov's films Man with a Movie Camera (1929), Enthusiasm (1930), and Three Songs of Lenin (1934); won Stalin Prize for her 1946 film Fascist Atrocities.

Selected films:

About Transport (1939); They Learn at the Collective Farms (1939); The Roof of the World (1940); The Chusovaia River (1940); The Oath of the Young (1943); Born by the Storm (1945); The Parade of the Youth (1946); Fascist Atrocities (1946); People's Trial (1946); The Slavonic Congress in Belgrade (1947).

Elizaveta Svilova, a film editor in post-tsarist Russia, was the wife and uncredited collaborator of Dziga Vertov, the man considered the "father" of Soviet documentary. Svilova and Vertov were both members of the influential Kino-eye group, dedicated to a formalist technique of film editing known as Soviet montage. Svilova and other montage theorists explored the way film cutting could reconstruct and reinterpret reality, experimenting with the ways editing could create new meanings by the use of close-ups, angles, movement within the frame, light and shade, and film speed. Svilova's interests lay in reediting documentary footage, much like Esther Shub . She believed that "documentary material is life" and perceived the traditional narrative fictional film as constrained by leaden theatrical conventions, in stark contrast to the vivid immediacy of the proletarian newsreel.

Svilova's work as editor, assistant, and co-director in collaboration with Vertov produced such classic documentaries as 1929's Man with a Movie Camera, a landmark in experimental cinema. The film chronicles one day in the life of a movie cinematographer, played by Vertov's brother Mikhail Kaufman, as he photographs life in the city. The creative team of Vertov, Kaufman and Svilova, who also performed in the film, was known within their circle as "The Council of Three." Other famous and important films directed by Vertov with the help of Svilova include Enthusiasm (1930) and Three Songs of Lenin (1934).

During a period of unemployment in the 1930s, Vertov relied on Svilova's work as a film editor to support them until they once again found employment together as documentarists. At the same time, Svilova created her own important films, including the 1946 film Fascist Atrocities which garnered her the Stalin Prize for editing. Fascist Atrocities was actually used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials, the proceedings of which Svilova covered in another film, People's Trial (1946). From her husband's death in 1954 until her own in 1975, Svilova was active in the publication and dissemination of his theoretical work, maintaining archival prints of Vertov's work and ensuring that his legacy—unlike hers—would not be forgotten.

sources:

Foster, Gwendolyn A., ed. Women Film Directors: An International Bio-Critical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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