Scenes from a revolution
Anarchist film during the Spanish Civil War
By Marie Trigona
The Leopoldo Lugones theatre
is showing the retrospective, Anarchist film during the Spanish Civil War:
Images from the rearguard, a series of documentary and fictional film reflecting
ruffian counter-culture, working class struggles, womens emancipation
and land collectivization during the years 1936-1938.
Ángel Santos Garcés, curator of the series organized by the
Huesca film festival, said that with little resources, the filmmakers
struggled to maintain an ideal and promote ideas. Santos Garcés
added that these films reflect how the anarchist vision for a working class
revolution changed with the war. The anarchists were not only fighting to
defeat the rise of Francisco Franco but also fought for a utopia.
The Spanish anarchist umbrella union, the National Confederation of Workers
(CNT), produced over 100 documentaries and feature length fiction films between
1936 and 1937, in the midst of the war against fascism and a revolution. Film
production during this period was collectivized and theatres functioned as
political centres. The anarchists used the camera as a political organ and
as a tool to reflect the subjectivity of the revolution. Film directors envisioned
the films to show daily realities and social conflicts behind and on the battle
Santos Garcés explained for the series in Argentina organisers decided
to show the feature length films accompanied by short documentaries for the
simple reason of time constraints and convenience. However, the CNT used the
documentaries as a way to inform audiences of what was happening on the battle
front in a time when television didnt exist. First the news reel was
shown and then the entertainment film came.
These films had wide distribution because of the reach and support of the
CNT. The CNT managed 110 theatres in Barcelona alone. Films were also taken
to the countryside with mobile movie theatres. The film workers union financed
political cinema by selling tickets to Hollywood films. The CNT didnt
see this as a contradiction because it permitted the union to produce cinema
which reflected the interests of the working class and exploited sectors.
But like most film makers today documenting social conflicts, the films were
made with very little resources.
Many of the cameras went to the front lines and most of the best filming
was done on the front. Frente y la retaguardia (The front and the rearguard)
is the best one they made, said Santos Garcés. He added, those
that stayed behind had little training.
However, the retrospective includes narrative films that maintain technical,
artistic and political qualities in the script, photography and montage. These
movies border traditional genres of cinema but with a particular libertarian
vision and aesthetic. Santos Garcés said that even in the time of war
the anarchist thought a lot about the importance of what went on behind the
battle front. Filmmakers felt that the battles and victories in day to day
life needed to be documented. When we organized the festival, we decided
to forget the battle front so that the images of the war also represent life
behind the front line, which the majority of the population lived, said
Many of the films included in the retrospective were recuperated, restored
and premiered 70 years after the films original premiere. Not only did
Franco liquidate soldiers and activists fighting for a democratic republic,
his regime destroyed much of the historic documents from the anarchists and
socialists. When Franco took power in Spain, material produced by the
Left was confiscated and destroyed, said Santos Garcés. Representatives
from the Huesca film festival found much of the material housed at the Spanish
film archive in Barcelona. However, organisers found 100 rolls of anarchist
film in Mexico. A descendent of a combatant in the Spanish Civil War had smuggle
the film out of Spain. Among this material, Aragón trabajo y lucha
1936 (Aragón works and struggles) was found.
Aragón works and struggles was lost after the war and only recuperated
recently. It was premiered again after nearly 70 years and was shown as part
of the retrospective. This 16 minute documentary shows life in the Aragón
region - peasants working on collectivised land, soldiers from the CNT front
fight in the trenches, the leader Buenaventura Durruti speaking to a rally,
the power of the press, women and men dancing during their leisure time from
Carne de fieras, a fiction film which will be shown on Saturday in Lugones,
breaks conventions and taboos about sexual attractions and infidelity. During
the presentation of the series in the Lugones theatre, Santos Garcés
said that in the middle of the films production the director, Armand
Guerra, wanted to stop production to go and film the battle front. The film
workers union made Guerra finish so the crew wouldnt lose their
jobs. The film was finished but didnt premier until the 1990s.
Santos Garcés said that when the film was complete distributors found
a full nude scene when a dancer strips in a lions cage during a circus
performance. They decided the to paint a bikini on the film strip to cover
up the dancer, but the cost of this process was higher than the entire film
production. Distributors decided to ban the movie from theatres.
This retrospective is a historic document of the rebellious spirit captured
by the anarchists cameras. These films have never been released in Argentina
and no copies will be left behind, so this is a rare chance to view these
Thursday: La silla vacia 18,
Nuestro culpable 87; Friday: Barcelona trabaja para el frente 23,
¡Nosotros somos así! 31, El frente y la retaguardia 22,
La última 15; Saturday: Carne de fieras 68; Sunday Otro
2:30, 5, 7:30, 10
A scene from ¡Nosotros
somos asi! (Thats the way we are!), a musical comedy in which children
confront authority and organise in a political assembly.
Barrios bajos (Working class
neighbourhoods), is a realist but poetic film about criminality and the court
systems clearly sympathetic to petty thieves and prostitutes.