Joris Ivens  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Joris Ivens (November 18 1898June 28 1989) was a Dutch documentary filmmaker and devout communist. He is generally respected as one of the foremost documentarists of the twentieth century, noted for his political film Misère au Borinage and his city symphony Rain.


Probably the best known of his early films is his 10-minute short Rain (Regen). Born into a wealthy family, Ivens went to work in his father's photo supply shop and from there developed an interest in film. He completed his first film at 13; in college he studied economics with the goal of continuing his father's business, but an interest in class issues distracted him from that path. Originally his work focused on technique--some argue that it had that focus at the cost of relevance, especially in Rain, filmed over 2 years and featuring impressive cinematography and a number of "characters" (but no information about them aside from what was visible) and in The Bridge (which showed a frank admiration of engineering and also featured a number of "characters" but again did not give any information about them).

In 1931 Ivens went to the Soviet-Union to make Song of Heroes, a propaganda film about the construction of the new industrial city of Magnitogorsk. This city was mainly built by forced labourers, who however were portrayed by Ivens as communist volunteers. Ivens later referred to these forced labourers as 'weed'.

In 1933 he made Misère au Borinage (Borinage) with Henri Storck, a moving and militant documentary about life in a coal mining region.

From 1936 to 1945 Ivens lived in the United States and made anti-fascist and other propaganda films (including the propaganda piece for the Spanish loyalists The Spanish Earth, narrated by Ernest Hemingway). With the rise of McCarthyism, Ivens (long a vocal communist) left the United States. In 1946, commissioned to make a Dutch film about Indonesian "independence," Ivens resigned out of protest of what he considered ongoing imperialism. For about a decade Ivens lived in Eastern-Europe, working for several studio's there. His position concerning Indonesia and his taking sides for the Eastern Block in the Cold War annoyed the Dutch government. Over a period of many years, he was obliged to renew his passport every three or four months. According to later mythology however, he lost his passport for ten years, which is not true. From 1965 to 1970 he filmed life in North Vietnam during the war: 17e parallèle: La guerre du peuple (17th Parallel: Vietnam in War) and participated in the collective work Loin du Vietnam (Far from Vietnam).

From 1971 to 1977 he filmed How Yukong Moved the Mountain, a 763 minute documentary about the Cultural Revolution in China. Ivens was knighted by the Dutch government in 1989; he died on June 28 that same year. Shortly before his death he made the last of more than 40 films Une histoire de vent (A tale of the wind).

Joris Ivens was awarded Lenin Peace Prize for the year 1967.


  • Kees Bakker (ed.), Joris Ivens and the Documentary Context, Paperback edition, Amsterdam University Press 2000
  • Hans Schoots, Living Dangerously: A Biography of Joris Ivens, Amsterdam University Press 2000
  • Virgilio Tosi, Cinema e Utopia, Rome, 2002 ISBN 88-8319-745-3

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Joris Ivens" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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