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Joris Ivens; Documentary Film Maker for 70 Years

June 30, 1989|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Joris Ivens, noted documentary film maker whose self-described "dramatizations of daily life" vividly reflected a world in turmoil for more than 70 years, has died in Paris.

He was 91, according to his wife, film maker Marceline Loridan Ivens, who often served as his co-director.

Ivens, a founder of the Dutch film industry who made his first film, "Wigwam," a wistful look at cowboys and Indians, when he was only 13, died of a heart attack provoked by kidney failure at a Paris hospital Wednesday night.

His last film, "Une Histoire du Vent" (A Story of the Wind), was released three months ago.

"He was very ill during the filming; he suffered a lot," his wife told the Reuters news agency.

The film, shot in such troubled locations as the Gobi Desert, starred Ivens as an old man who wants to photograph the wind. It won a career achievement award at last year's Venice Film Festival.

'Upset and Angry'

Despite his frail health, he took part a few days ago in protest marches in Paris against the suppression of the student-led demonstrations in Beijing.

"He was upset and angry by recent events in China and sent a telegram, just before he entered the hospital, calling for economic sanctions," Marceline Ivens said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.

Considered one of the world's leading avant-garde documentary film makers, the white-haired and fiery Ivens was known for his leftist political beliefs and anti-colonialist views.

Because of them, the Dutch government denied support for his work for decades, and at one point, he was hounded by officials until he went into self-imposed exile.

He was a committed Socialist who spent much of his life documenting the lives of ordinary people living through difficult times.

At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, he immediately left the United States for Spain, where he filmed the plight of villagers living near Madrid. Ernest Hemingway wrote and narrated the documentary.

Proceeds from the picture went for the purchase of 17 ambulances for the Republican cause.

Ivens eventually created about 60 films, many devoted to revolutionary struggles in China, Cuba and North Vietnam.

Ivens was born in Nijmegen, Holland. His father owned camera shops, and his grandfather made portraits with a primitive Daguerre camera.

He briefly studied economics before turning to film making full time in 1923. He began to establish an international reputation in 1928-29 with "De Brug" (The Bridge), "Branding" (Breakers) and "Regen" (Rain).

His masterpiece is considered "The Spanish Earth," the 1937 film about the Civil War, which Ivens not only filmed but in which he fought on the Republican side.

He moved to the United States in 1936, living in New York and Hollywood, and stayed until 1944, when he accepted the Dutch government's offer to be film commissioner in what was then its colony of Indonesia. He resigned on his way there, however, when he learned that the Dutch government had refused the colony's bid for independence.

While in the United States, he joined a group called Contemporary Historians, founded by Archibald MacLeish, Lillian Hellman, John Dos Passos and others to make films on contemporary events. "The Spanish Earth" was an outgrowth of that commitment.

Among his many awards were the French Legion of Honor and the 1955 World Peace Prize, which he accepted in Helsinki, Finland.

In 1986, he reconciled with the Dutch government, which gave him the Golden Calf award at the Dutch Film Days exhibit in Paris. The award was accompanied by a formal apology for past treatment by previous governments.

In an interview at his Left Bank apartment last year, Ivens told The Times of his definition of documentaries and discussed briefly the people who made them.

"Directors like Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Jim Jarmusch understand the role of the real in film," he said. "In some ways, their films could be considered documentaries."

He defined a documentary as "cinematic, a dramatization of daily life."

"It must make people think, and in an extreme militant sense, it can agitate. In form, it can go from newsreel to fiction," he said. "Authenticity, after all, isn't necessarily truth. Fiction can be truer."

Ivens and his wife had no children.

"Our films were our children," Marceline Ivens said.

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