Long-lost film on Russian Civil War screens for the first time in 100 years
“The Story of the Civil War”, a 1921 silent film by Dziga Vertov, premiered in 100 years at the Tuschindzki Theater in Amsterdam.
The screening was part of this year Amsterdam International Documentary Festival (IDFA), a hub for documentary amateurs and professionals from around the world. The art-deco theater really set the scene for the film of the same period.
Lost and found
The last and first time the documentary film was seen was by 600 members of the Communist International in 1921. After that, it disappeared and only the paper reviews of the film could be found.
However, only a few years ago it was found, and film historian Nikolai Izvolov reconstructed it with the help of documents. Almost the entire movie has been reconstructed except for a few scenes with Stalin which, for some reason, were never found.
Another Vertov film, ‘Anniversary of the Revolution’, suffered the same fate, but was found and then remastered by Izvolov in 2018. It was also screened at IDFA.
Izvolov says about 90% of silent era films have been lost. It is one of his motivations to work on the restoration of these films so that some can at least be presented to the public.
A documentary pioneer
Dziga Vertov was an avant-garde Soviet director known for films such as “The Man with the Camera”. He is widely regarded as a revolutionary director in the documentary world. He used techniques that are now common, like Dutch angles, stills, extreme close-ups and slow-motion, but they were revolutionary at the time.
Documenting a violent period
“The History of the Civil War” is a documentary about the war between the Bolsheviks and the anti-revolutionary White Army. It is considered Bolshevik propaganda and describes the years when the Bolsheviks fought to overcome national opposition to the revolution. Scenes show street fights, military courts and trenches. As the IDFA puts it, it is “the unvarnished record of a country in chaos, marked by unstable alliances and brutal violence.”
Konstantin Grinberg-Vertogradsky, producer of the remastered film, says: “In Russia and all over the world, no one knows Philip Mironov, no one knows Trotsky, or maybe people have heard of him, but they don’t know. not really who he is. “For him, this is why the film is very important because” this war was a very bloody war and a largely unknown war, but Russia lost several million people in this war “.
A modern day performance
The screening was accompanied live by ‘The Anvil Orchestra’, which is known worldwide for its silent film music. The film was thus able to take on its full dimension with the two star musicians-composers of the group: Terry Donahue and Roger Clark Miller.
They wrote an original play for Vertov’s film, creating a unique experience for them and the audience.
Miller says he did a lot of regular soundtrack work where there is sound design and background music, but “The History of the Civil War” was different. “We are the sound design and we speak too. So we have to be more active ‘every moment’ in the film because there is no speech,” he explains. Their music becomes the speech, the sound design, the explosions and “the music is part of the movie”.
The film will be presented in Moscow in the spring and also in Italy at the next Venice Film Festival.