Dziga Vertov Biographical Notes

Dziga Vertov's life is mirrored in many of his films because he is one of the victims of Eastern Europe's several changes of regimes and war during the early 20th century. He bases his films on the reality of the Russian people. Vertov was born January 2, 1896 in Bialystok, Poland with the name Dennis Arkadievitch Kaufman (Barnouw, 1984). When Vertov was older he used a pseudonym for his writings and for his films ("Dziga Vertov", 1987). Vertov's education, documentaries, childhood, and the government became a background for his successful film and writing careers.

Vertov's education helped the themes and images of his movies. Music which he studied at Bialystok conservatory became an important factor in narrating Vertov's documentaries (Michelson, 1984). It was after music school when Vertov started writing ("Dziga Vertov", 1987). Although separate from his films, his writing enhanced his ideas for his documentaries. Vertov worked on films, while studying medicine in St. Petersburg. (Michelson, 1984) His younger brothers would then follow in film careers as cameraman ("Dziga Vertov", 1987).

In developing his career as a film artist Vertov focused on documentaries. One of his most famous documentaries is the newsreel Godovshchina Revoliutsiya or the Anniversary of the Revolution, which he wrote and edited (Barnouw, 1984). Vertov also directed another set of newsreels, Kino-pravada which came about because of the Russian newspaper article about films called Pravda. Segodnia, Russia's first animated film was directed by Dziga Vertov ("Dziga Vertov", 1987). Vertov created significance in Russian film history.

Although Vertov was born in Poland he spent most of his life in Russia. Germany invaded Poland when he was a child, starting the first world war, so he and his family immigrated to Russia where Vertov lived through several wars and changing governments in the Soviet Union (Barnouw, 1984). Vertov shaped his life around his movies because of the experiences he had as a Russian citizen.

Vertov wanted his audience to be able to "feel the world" because he wanted his audience to see what was really going on in Russia (Michelson, 1984). He focused on reality, which is why he constantly criticized foreign films such as American, British, French, and Japanese because he believed the characters lived a fantasy life. According to Vertov in an article by Barnouw, "Foreign lands abet you in your confusion, sending into the new Russia . . . in splendid technological dressing" (Barnouw, 1984). Characters in Western films did not suffer like real people or at least like the people of Eastern Europe. His Russian films were serious, not ideological like the Western films.

Most of Vertov's films reflected what the government wanted the movies to say about Russian life, which was serious. According to Michelson, "Vertov proposes the rationalization of cinema as an element of the whole industrial sector . . . sources are its cardinal points of attack" (Michelson, 1984). Russian leaders dominated the movie world by dictating what the movies were to be about. It was Lenin who had said that the movies had to reflect "Soviet reality" and so Vertov followed his leader in making documentaries focusing on actuality. When Stalin came into power many of Vertov's films were rejected, so Vertov had to change the way he focused on Russian life, this time from Stalin's point of view (Barnouw, 1984). Vertov's films changed with the leaders of the Soviet republic, allowing other people control him. He would continue making films for the rest of his life.

Vertov died from cancer in 1954 ("Dziga Vertov", 1987). He left the mother country Russia a documentary of her life from newsreels he had directed, edited, or written. He concentrated on what the government said partly for the love of his people and partly because the government wanted him to. According to Michelson, "Epistemological inquiry and the project of a revolutionary cinema converge in the world of truth seen by the cinematic eye" (Michelson, 1984). Vertov's films are examples of what went on in Russia during the early nineteenth century.

--Danielle Pasqua

Dziga Vertov