It’s not every day a silent film is discovered, restored, and screened for audiences 100 years since it was last seen by any audience but attendees at this year’s Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam are in for just such a treat. It’s been revealed that Soviet director Dziga Vertov’s “The History of the Civil War,” filmed in 1921, will screen at the festival for just the second time in its existence. The film will be shown with live musical accompaniment from the Anvil Orchestra, using a newly composed soundtrack written by Roger Miller and Terry Donahue, former members of the Alloy Orchestra.
The film was initially presumed to be lost, last screening for members of the Comintern in 1921. It was presumed that only a 12-minute snippet was all that existed. This print was part of a two-year restoration effort by film historian Nikolai Izvolov, who had previously brought Vertov’s 1918 feature, “Anniversary of the Revolution” to screen at IDFA in 2018. The film is almost 100 percent complete except for a scene that contained Joseph Stalin, which is though to be truly lost.
“The History of the Civil War” focuses on he years when the Bolsheviks struggled to defeat domestic opposition to the revolution. The film is praised for its unvarnished look at the death and destruction being waged, with Vertov filming fights in the streets, as well as military tribunals. According to the IDFA website, “Nikolai Izvolov used historical records to reconstruct the original silent film from archive material and commissioned a new soundtrack.”
Vertov is considered a groundbreaking director in the world of documentary. His 1929 film “Man With a Movie Camera” looks at urban life in the former Soviet Union and regularly appears on lists of the best documentaries. In 2015 documentarian Errol Morris included it on his list of essential features to watch in the documentary genre. Vertov was known for using what we now see as common techniques in filmmaking, from Dutch angles, freeze frames, extreme close ups, and slow motion.
While “Man With a Movie Camera” is available to screen everywhere, it is unclear how available “The History of the Civil War” will be available outside of this festival.
The IDFA takes place from November 17-28.