Joris Ivens was like one of those long-serving suitcases held together by the labels of a lifetime’s travel. Having fought in the First World War and studied photography, he made scientific films for the University of Levden, worked as a documentarist in Holland, and then went to Russia to make Komsomol. Thereafter, he pursued the Molent troubles of the world. First, he coordinated the many indignant talents involved on Spanish Earth; lie went to China for The Four Hundred Million; and made Power and the Land for the U.S. government. During the war, he lectured at UCLA and worked for the American and Canadian governments.
In 1945, he went to the East in an official capacity for the Dutch government, only to resign when Holland refused to recognize the independence of Indonesia. For the next ten years he worked in Eastern Europe. In 1956, he collaborated with Cavalcanti on Die Vind Rose and also produced and codirected with Gérard Philipe, Les Aventures de Till l’Espiègle. Nearing sixty, he traveled again—through China, South America, and Africa. Those seemed more traiquil years, but he was steadied in the Far East and reinforced as a radical by the war in Vietnam. Ivens’s work gradually shed formality. As a young Dutch documentary-maker, he was firmly in the “symphonic” tradition. But Spanish Earth was a crucial film in that it admitted the existence of situations where one could only film what was possible, put it together, and let the terrible urgency he known to the rest of the world. Ivens is thus the original international cameraman, intent on showing the recesses of current events and the horrors, triumphs, and injustices that occur. He was vastly traveled, hut not dejected. And although he made films for Western and Eastern interests, it is the world that has fluctuated. The same humanitarianism drove him throughout. He reminds us of an age when there were no TV units or photojournalists to crowd out disasters with description.