Joris Ivens (1898-1989)

The Bridge (1927-28)
Regen (1929)

Joris Ivens, 90, Dutch Documentary Film Maker
Published: June 30, 1989
New York Times

Joris Ivens, the Dutch creator of more than 50 documentary films, many of them about revolutionary struggle, died Wednesday at Laennec Hospital in Paris. He was 90 years old.

Marceline Loridan, his wife and longtime collaborator, said he died of a heart attack brought on by kidney failure.

Mr. Ivens, who made a cowboys-and-Indians movie, ''Flaming Arrow,'' featuring his family at the age of 13, viewed documentaries as a way to improve the human condition and said they were ''deeper and more personal than newsreel truth.''

Early films by Mr. Ivens, a founder of the Dutch film industry, included ''The Bridge,'' a rhythmic 1928 study of the structure and functions of a Rotterdam drawbridge; ''Zuiderzee,'' a 1930 record of the Herculean task of reclaiming the flood plain for farming; ''Song of Heroes,'' a 1932 report on the construction of blast furnaces in Siberia, and ''Borinage,'' a stark 1933 account of a strike by Belgian coal miners. His early films tended to be experimental and lyrical while the later ones were more realistic, socially concerned and polemical. Spanish Civil War Film

His masterpiece was considered to be ''The Spanish Earth,'' a compelling 1937 study of the struggle of Spanish Loyalists to preserve new liberties threatened by the Falangists and to reclaim farmland neglected by generations of absentee landlords. Speaking about the feature-length documentary, which he produced for less than $10,000, he said the civil war in Spain was not essentially for ideology but for ''melons, tomatoes, onions.''

The film was made on battlegrounds and in a war-ravaged village on the Madrid-Valencia road with a movingly understated commentary written and spoken by Ernest Hemingway and a score of Spanish country music arranged by Marc Blitzstein. The cast was the villagers, and Mr. Ivens said a main objective was to show ''that life must go on, that it cannot stop because of daily bombing and strafing.''

Other films included ''The 400 Million,'' about China; ''The Power and the Land,'' a study of rural American electrification; ''Our Russian Front''; ''Indonesia Calling!'' and ''How Lukong Moves the Mountain,'' in China. Most of his later documentaries were made in Communist countries, including North Vietnam and Cuba, and elsewhere in Latin America.

The movie maker was born Georg Henri Anton Ivens in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. His grandfather was a pioneer photographer and his father owned a chain of camera shops. Young Ivens was a field artillery lieutenant in World War I and a militant among students and then workers in both the Netherlands and Germany before he began making documentaries in the late 1920's. He won many film awards, including Dutch, French and Venice film festival honors.

His wife said yesterday, ''We have no children; our films were our children.''