Joris Ivens

Active - 1912 - 1988  |   Born - Nov 18, 1898   |   Died - Jun 28, 1989   |   Genres - Culture & Society, Avant-garde / Experimental, History, Comedy Drama, War

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens is among the most influential and prolific of documentary makers. The grandson of a Dutch photography pioneer and the son of the owner of CAPI, a photography equipment company, Ivens (born Georg Henri Anton Ivens) made his first film, an American-style western, Flaming Arrow at age 13. In 1917, Ivens attended the Rotterdam College of Economics, but soon afterward entered the military. Following his discharge, he went back to school and became active in politics. Thus began his lifelong committment to numerous humanitarian (especially leftist) causes. He next moved to Berlin to study photochemistry at the University of Charlottenburg; there he also worked in a pair of camera factories where he became active in worker's rights struggles, before returning to Holland in 1926 to take over his father's business. During this time, Ivens was influenced by German expressionist and Russian avant-garde films. He and a few friends founded one of the very first film societies to promote the constructive criticism of films, Filmliga (the Dutch Film League) in 1926 .

Encouraged by the League's success Ivens began making his own films in 1928. The first was an avant-garde look at a Rotterdam drawbridge titled The Bridge. The film was seminal in launching Dutch cinema. The following year, Ivens made his first fictional feature, but it was released with little notice. In the latter part of 1929, he returned to the avant-garde with Rain a film in which he deftly spliced four months of footage chronicling different kinds of rain showers together to look like one day's shower. The film won considerable acclaim and helped turn documentaries towards impressionism. Before the year's end, he embarked upon a lengthy tour to lecture in the Soviet Union for Vsevolod Pudovkin. He returned in 1932 and made the documentary Song of the Heroes, a film that marked a major change in Ivens' style. Judging his film's socially conscious content to be more important than cinematic style, Ivans began creating more realistic films. In 1933, Ivens made one of his most famous documentaries, the satirical New Earth. He followed this with an even greater work, The Spanish Earth (1937) a still powerful chronicle of fascist atrocities towards peasants during the Spanish Civil War that featured collaborator Ernest Hemingway as narrator. Ivens used profits from the film to purchase ambulances for the Loyalists. From there Ivens began travelling the world making many more documentaries. In 1954, he was awarded the International Peace Prize of the World Peace Council, and numerous other awards for Song of the Rivers. To make the film, Ivens travelled to over 32 countries. After that, he went to China for four months to shoot 400 MIllion a film to make the world aware that China had been invaded by the Japanese. He came to the U.S. during WW II to make propaganda films. He also tried to make fictional features but had no luck finding backers. Ivens was appointed Film Commissioner for the Netherlands' East Indies by the Dutch government in 1944. Ivens served there until he sided with independence-seeking Indonesian nationalists. Following his resignation, Ivens made a documentary to support their struggle. In 1951, he was branded a communist by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee and so never went back to the States. Instead, Ivens spent much of next decade making pro-communist features. He made one more ficitional feature Adventures of Till Eulenspiegel in the '50s, returning to Holland in the latter '60s where an archive of the Dutch Film Museum was named after him. He was also hailed as a national artist.

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