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, women’s 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 front.

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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 Santos Garcés.

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 the revolution.
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 film’s 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 wouldn’t lose their jobs. The film was finished but didn’t premier until the 1990’s. Santos Garcés said that when the film was complete distributors found a full nude scene when a dancer strips in a lion’s 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 movies.

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 futuro 160’
2:30, 5, 7:30, 10

A scene from ¡Nosotros somos asi! (That’s 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.

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