All the major political movements of the XX century have found in the cinema and in the whole audiovisual production a very powerful tool for the diffusion of their ideas and therefore, political propaganda: all the dictatorship, but specially the far right wing that violently shook Europe, used the cinema for their purposes: there was a serious reflection about how to use its language and impact and serious economic efforts were made to make cinema become a strategic resource in the ideological battle: we can think, for instance, on Mussolini’s CineCitta, the fastuous cinema studios the Italian Duce built in the outskirts of Rome, the films that Leni Riefensthal shot for Hitler, like The Triumph of the Will or Franco in Spain, who took part in Raza (Race) as guionist and scriptwriter.
There was, however, a short but very fructuous moment in which cinema was used and understood as a tool for social development and provided with a strong cooperative background: the first years of the USSR, before Stalin’s strike: those were the years when Einsestein would completely change the language of cinema, specially its grammar, through the edition, in masterpieces that have been studied, reproduced and honored and copied by hundreds of directors after him, without having in consideration his political idearium. Among his whole production, “The Battleship Potemptkin” proves to be extraordinarily relevant, specially the scenes of the staircase of Odessa (Ukraine).
However, there are other directors who appear to be more relevant for the field we are covering. The first one we are going to talk about is Dziga Vertov, who was completely against the fiction cinema. He considered the cinema should be used to help the people to understand life and the vital space surrounding them. He used for that a lot of different resources like hidden cameras and other artifacts, trying to record life as raw an real as he could.
Using topics taken from the daily life, such as the work in the factories, Vertov created a new movement called “kinoki” (cinema-eye) where he advocated for considering the cinema camera as an updated and improved version of the human eye (paradoxically, the Futurists movement, in the opposite side of the political spectrum, would have a similar point of view). Vertov proved to have a very strong didactic approach, showing us in his movies how a film is made: in Vertov’s films we can see some cameras, how a scene is prepared and even moment of the edition of the material. In times when expertise is such a treasure to keep hidden, Vertov’s attitude and approach look so refreshing and modern.
Inheriting the values of Vertov’s cinema, but with a more pedagogical than metafilmic approach, we can find the work of Alexandr Medvedkin, other Russian filmmaker, contemporary of Vertov and Eisenstein, whose main contribution was the creation of the so-called “pedagogical missions”, where cinema played an important role. For that purpose, Medvedkin created what he called the Cinetrain. The director counted with with his own convoy, fully equipped with an edition room, storages, projection room, etc, and he could reach literally any corner of the Soviet Union showing thousands of peasants the rudiments of cinema by recording short films, most of them documentaries, in cooperation with the locals. The vast majority of them where very simple stories whose common thread was problems or conflicts the community was facing or political movies where the new rights and privileges supposedly given by the revolution were shown to a population that was completely illiterate in most of the cases.
Under the Sovietic slogan of ‘We shoot today, we’ll show tomorrow” Medvedkin and his team get the people from the rural areas engaged in the process by getting them involved in the decision-making processes, choosing the topic, designing the script, etc. Medvedkin and his crew would just take care of the purely technical aspects. Once the recording and edition processes had finished, the film was exhibited in front of the whole community, that became emissor and receptor, actor and audience. It is absolutely incredible how, 100 years ago, Medvedkin and his crew found ad designed a project that was, in its essence, like the cooperative learning of Spencer Kagan, although it was not so detailed and developed. It is also astonishing to discover how they were so interested on making the Russian population aware of the processes and methodology behind the audiovisual industry, specially if we take in consideration that it should look like science fiction for the people of the beginning of the XX century.
Since one of our aims is to bring the processes and tools of the audiovisual production to the students and therefore to the society, it is obvious that Medvedkin would be a relevant reference.
When it comes to show reality and help education, documentaries should have a very important role in this project since they are supposed to show us reality without bias and promoting neutrality. However, in the last decade, documentaries have changed and are more subjective and prone to certain degree of stupidity and completely free of sense spectacularity. It must be our aim, then, to show our students which should be the ethic code of any documentary, and for that it is almost mandatory to talk about Robert Flaherty, who is considered tha father of the documentary genre, even if none of his films was named that way when they were produced. Films like “Nanook”, produced in 1922, show us the way Flaherty operated: he lived with the inuit community during years and, as Medvedkin did, he progressively incorporated them in the production of his films, doing different tasks like edition, production and scripting. A perfect beginning to work with the students.
It is also remarkable, when we are talking about how to show reality in its own rawness, the French “Cinema-Verite, and specially Jean Rouch, the movement´s godfather. Most of the directors who later on became members of the relevant French movement of the “Nouvelle Vague” (The New wave) worked under his protection.