Dziga and His Brothers: A Film Family on the Cutting Edge
November 17 - 26 2006
One of film history’s most remarkable families, the Kaufman brothers — Denis, Moise, and Boris—were born in Bialystock, a Polish town that was part of the Russian Tsarist Empire in the late 19th century. The family moved to Moscow, but with the outbreak of the Russian Revolution the parents decided to return to Poland, taking youngest son Boris with them while leaving his two older brothers in the just-emerging Soviet Union. Abandoning his studies in psychology, Denis became active as a poet and later filmmaker in the avant-garde Constructivist art movement, changing his name to Dziga Vertov — "spinning top." Moise had already become Mikhail, and would join his brother's film group, the "kinoks" or "cinema people," when he returned from the civil war. Together, Dziga Vertov and Mikhail Kaufman would create some of the most provocative, revealing and influential works of that golden era of Soviet filmmaking, including the remarkable Man with the Movie Camera.
Meanwhile, Boris in Poland had followed his brothers’ artistic careers with interest, learning cinematography from Mikhail, as he would later say, "through the mail." In 1927 he left for Paris, where he became involved in the growing independent or alternative film movement. He met a young firebrand and aspiring director named Jean Vigo and, recognizing a kindred spirit, began to work with him. With Kaufman as cinematographer and Vigo as director, together they created some of the era’s most memorable films — the beautiful city symphony A Propos de Nice; the hilarious surrealist fable Zero for Conduct; and L’Atalante, the prototype for generations of independent films.
Unhappily, their great success would not last long. Dziga and Mikhail would split after Man with the Movie Camera, but soon both would fall victim to the pressures of Stalinism, which had no use for the kind of experimental work they produced. Jean Vigo died soon after completing L’Atalante, and Boris Kaufman would never find in France another partner as he had in Vigo. Later immigrating to the United States, his luck again changed when he was asked to work with Elia Kazan on a film about corruption in the dockworkers' union. That film became On the Waterfront, and earned Boris Kaufman an Oscar for Best Black and White Cinematography.
This will be a rare opportunity to see screenings of some of Dziga Vertov's masterworks (as well as a selection of his newsreel series Kino-Pravda), most of which were made in collaboration with Mikhail. We are also proud to include Mikhail Kaufman's rarely seen In Spring, his first solo effort after going off on his own, as well as examples of Boris Kaufman's work in France and America.
This series was organized by Richard Peña and Alla Verlotsky of Seagull Films. Special thanks to Alexander Horwath of the Austrian Film Museum, John MacKay and Yale University