Ella Bergmann-Michel’s film work began in close cooperation with the activities of New Frankfurt. The documentation Wo wohnen alte Leute about the Budge Haus built by Mart Stam was an “instructional film” that campaigned for the construction of humane retirement homes. As she wrote, it was not “a coincidental report or photographed architecture, but a look at the living organism [...].” Erwerbslose kochen für Erwerbslose served as an intervention, namely as a fundraising campaign for the self-organised relief organisation’s public kitchens. She made her three other films at the same time, in the year before the Nazi takeover. For Fliegende Händler, she used the inconspicuousness of the mobile Kinamo camera to mix in with urban public spaces. She investigated the survival strategies of the “travelling hawkers” in the streets of Frankfurt, climbing over fences and onto a carousel to film the busy funfair. She also shot an experimental film essay about a stroll and Fischfang in der Rhön (Fishing in the Rhön) “without a script – just from direct observation”. In Wahlkampf 1932, her sharp gaze takes on additional political edge. She registers the future regime’s grasp on everyday life, the visible consent of the population, and the remnants of resistance.
We will screen all five films by Ella Bergmann-Michel, followed by Jutta Hercher’s and Maria Hemmleb’s film portrait of the artist and filmmaker.
Guests: Jutta Hercher und Madeleine Bernstorff, who have both been involved with the work of Ella Bergmann-Michel for years, will talk about her research and presentations as a film maker and film curator.
DE 1931, D, C, E, P Ella Bergmann-Michel, SC Ella Bergmann-Michel, Mart Stam, Print b/w, 35mm, silent, 13 min, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
“Bergmann-Michel’s Erwerbslose kochen für Erwerbslose provides an excellent example of an appropriate solution to the urgent housing question. It shows a model retirement home, built by architect Mart Stam for Frankfurt Main. The film is intended to advance this important topic throughout the world.” (“Neue Filme vom Bauen”, Kunst und Volk, Issue 5, January 1932) The building design was titled “Collective”. Ella Bergmann-Michel is especially interested in the moments of social interaction: like the residents, she permits herself to be guided by the possibilities and departures which the open interior design presents. “A cheerful interweaving of rooms; the windows allow the covered walkways and chat rooms to glide into each other. A promotional film without gimmicks, a filmed primer that combats prejudice.” (Frankfurter Zeitung, 15 January 1932)
DE 1932, D, SC, C, E Ella Bergmann-Michel, P Ella Bergmann-Michel, Paul Seligmann, Print b/w, 35mm, silent, 9 min, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
“A documentary film about the relief organisation that supported Frankfurt’s kitchens for the unemployed. The film screened in all cinemas in Frankfurt in September 1932 to kick off a major public donation campaign. The Frankfurter Zeitung wrote: ‘This film demonstrates, in a simple and completely unadorned fashion, the wretchedness of the direst unemployed and penniless existence…’ It also demonstrates both the social importance and the organisation of the kitchens. […] The film’s guiding principle is ‘Everyone must help!’” (Ella Bergmann-Michel, The Getty Research Institute, 88-A256; 880303) “It is interesting that major film companies refused to produce a film such as this one about the kitchens for the unemployed, arguing that the costs for the lighting equipment alone would be too high. Frau Bergmann-Michel had to make the film on her own, despite great difficulties and on a very small budget.” (Volksstimme Frankfurt, 29 September 1932)
DE 1932, D, SC, C, E Ella Bergmann-Michel, P Ella Bergmann-Michel, Paul Seligmann, Print b/w, 35mm, silent, 21 min, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
“Documentary film shot in the streets and on the squares of Frankfurt – recordings caught by observing the professional lives of various people who sold goods, sometimes without police authorisation, while they were unemployed.” Ella Bergmann-Michel, notes on her films, Sprengel archive Inv. No. A 40.04c-01-)
By the early 1930s, phantasms of female awakening and self-empowerment – as well as female flâneurs – had long been fixed medial images. But a woman roaming on her own with a film camera, observing and staging the urban environment with all its hidden corners, represents a solitary departure into the public sphere. She literally goes behind the scenes of the “travelling hawkers” and the funfair activity.
DE 1932, D, SC, C, E, P Ella Bergmann-Michel, Print b/w, 16mm, silent, 11 min, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
“Documentary film about a walk in the Rhön Mountains and the catching of trout and graylings. Film material: set up myself, without a script, just direct observation,” notes Ella Bergmann-Michel soberly of this cinematic stream of consciousness. Organic and abstract figures splash in and over each other; light and shadow undulate in waves. The rural residents are brought into the flow of images; their activities are studied closely for a moment; the look straight into the camera catches us as well.
DE 1932/33, D, SC, C, E, P Ella Bergmann-Michel, Print b/w, 35mm, silent, 13 min, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
The camera’s searching look along the streetscape takes on an additional political edge. It lingers at advertising columns and studies their torn paper as visible signs of protest; it seeks out the exits of workplaces to observe employees. Puzzled, it registers ordinary gestures in threatening uniforms; it follows the gathering electorate, then remains standing behind a flagpole. The flâneur becomes a witness to the increasing crisis, to the evident grip of the future regime on daily life. She observes the perceptible acquiescence and self-fashioning of the majority of the population as well as the disappearing remnants of palpable resistance. She gathers evidence.
BRD 1989, D, SC, C, E Jutta Hercher, Maria Hemmleb, M Ernst Bechert, P Jutta Hercher, N Franz Winzentsen, Hans Michel, Print colour & b/w, DCP from 16mm, 30 min, german OV with engl. SUB, Kinemathek Hamburg
“The film is made up primarily of her works: drawings and collages, photographs and sequences from her documentary films. Ella Bergmann’s diversity, her work with various media, can be found again on a formal level in the film. It brings together things that are often wrongly separated, namely the painter on the one hand and the documentary filmer on the other. This adds up to a lot of material in 30 minutes.” (Jutta Hercher) “Expression through image composition and shapes is always the key thing for me. […] This may take place during the course of the work – who can even say how or when somebody discovers things? – but it can also emerge earlier, as a thought.” (Ella Bergmann-Michel, Sprengel Museum Hannover, Inv. No. A 44.03b -01-)