Hans Richter and America’s First Documentary Film School
Tells the astonishing story of the first documentary film school in the USA—The Institute of Film Techniques at The City College of New York. The program exposed thousands of working class kids raised on Hollywood movies to the power of documentary. And it introduced them to artistic movements and ideas far beyond their ken, thanks to their professor, a European intellectual named Hans Richter. Richter was a radical, a DADAist, and a pioneering experimental filmmaker. He collaborated with some of the most famous modern artists of the 20th century, before fleeing the Fascists and the Nazis. Once in America, he continued making groundbreaking art. Moreover, he became a teacher who influenced generations of new artists and filmmakers.
Faculty and Students
Founded in 1941, Institute of Film Techniques set out to to train young Americans to make effective wartime propaganda films—films that could respond to the powerful screen propaganda being churned out by the Nazis. Richter, who had been labeled a “degenerate” artist by the Nazis, directed the Institute through the end of World War II and beyond, until 1957. He assembled a faculty of iconic social documentary makers: Robert Flaherty, Leo Hurwitz, Willard Van Dyke, and Joris Ivens. Graduates of this groundbreaking program range from Oscar-winners Alan Heim, Martin Starger and Lawrence Silk, to legends of American experimental film such as Jonas Mekas and Shirley Clarke.
Despite Richter’s accomplishments, the Film Institute proved to be too far ahead of its time. It was closed in 1966 by a college president who felt that the teaching of the most powerful art form of the 20th Century belonged, as he put it, “in a vocational school—and not at a senior college”.
The Creative Team
Written, Produced and Directed by DAVE DAVIDSON
Edited by PAMELA RALAT
Camera ULADZIMIR TAUKACHOU, HERMAN LEW, DAVE DAVIDSON
Supervising Sound Editor / Music Supervisor PAUL KOZEL
Narrator MARK ZEISLER
DVD, 62 minutes, color
Copyright Hudson West Productions, 2019