Kees Bakker

If there is one person who had a major influence on the films Joris Ivens made in the thirties, it is Helen van Dongen. She edited most of his films from this period - films that were often noted for their strong montage. Although they started a relationship in the early thirties, they did not marry until 1944, only a year before Joris Ivens left for Australia. Ivens had been appointed Film Commissioner for the Dutch East Indies and left, without a re-entry permit, with Marion Michelle, who became the camerawoman of Indonesia Calling (1946) and his new love. The next and last time Helen van Dongen met Joris Ivens in person was in 1978.

Born in 1909 the daughter of a Belgian (Walloon, French-speaking) mother and a Dutch father, Helen van Dongen came to work as a trade correspondent for the Amsterdam branch of CAPI, the photo and optical equipment firm of C.A.P. Ivens, father of Joris Ivens. At that time, in 1927, Joris Ivens first worked as head of the technical department and later as vice-president of this branch. In this same year Joris Ivens started with his first film experiments, and later, while he was abroad working on The Bridge in 1928 and Rain in 1929, Helen van Dongen did the work for CAPI that Joris was neglecting. She became more and more involved in his film work and in the activities organized by the Dutch Film League, and Ivens asked her to do more and more for his projects. With the film We Are Building (for which work started in 1929) her contribution became more important. She began doing some camera work and assisting with the editing of the film and the different sections of it that were released separately, especially Zuiderzee.

Joris Ivens was not always consistent in crediting Helen van Dongen for her contributions to his films. Philips Radio (1931) was her first first screen credit, as editor, together with Ivens. She had already spent six months in Paris studying sound recording and editing and it was in Paris that the sound track of the Philips film was made.

Assisting Joris Ivens with the montage sequences of his films of this period, Helen van Dongen's career moved smoothly from assistant editor to professional editor (in addition to her work for CAPI). She further developed her skills at the UFA studios in Berlin, and did the sound recordings and editing for Lou Lichtveld's musical accompaniment to Rain in 1932, edited New Earth (1933) and the Russian version of Borinage (1934) in Moscow, where she studied with Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Vertov and lectured on editing. In 1936 she went to the United States, studied Hollywood techniques of production, directing, and sound recording and settled with Joris Ivens in New York. A few months after the start of the Spanish Civil War she produced and edited the compilation film Spain in Flames and in 1937 she edited Ivens's The Spanish Earth.

Helen van Dongen continued her career as editor and sometimes producer and director of films. Her other notable contributions during her stay in the United States were to Ivens's The 400 Million (1938) and Power and the Land (1941), and to Robert Flaherty's The Land (1942) and Louisiana Story (1948). In 1950 she produced, directed, and edited her last film, Of Human Rights. That same year she married journalist Kenneth Durant and retired from filmmaking.


COPYRIGHT:Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival Organizing Committee