The International Educational Cinematograph Institute, Reactionary Modernism, and the Formation of Film Studies

By Druick, Zoë | Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

The International Educational Cinematograph Institute, Reactionary Modernism, and the Formation of Film Studies


Druick, Zoë, Canadian Journal of Film Studies


Résumé: En traçant l'histoire méconnue de l'Institut international du cinéma éducateur (1928-1937) de Rome, cet article réexamine comment la Ligue des nations a contribué à légitimer le développement d'institutions culturelles internationales pendant l'entre-guerre. Cet examen du discours entourant le cinéma et l'éducation dans ce contexte historique considère l'influence du « modernisme réactionnaire » qui caractérisait alors l'idéologie fasciste gouvernant l'Institut. L'auteure s'attarde aussi au rôle unique que l'Institut a joué dans l'évolution des études cinématographiques.

The interwar decades of the 1920s and 1930s represent an important period for both film and politics. Indeed, many of the issues characterizing film studies in this era, including the silent versus sound film debates, the struggles between Film Europe and Film America, and the challenges posed to mainstream film in different ways by both the avant-garde and social realist cinemas, had clearly political overtones. Not only did film offer new experiences, perceptions and forms of sociality, but the mass media was seen to play an important role in education and corralling popular opinion for a variety of nation and empire building philosophies.1

Much has already been written about Soviet and German propaganda during this period,2 and Hollywood's fostering of consumerism is also well researched.3 The British documentary film movement continues to provoke debate and discussion.4 Situated at the centre of these issues yet absent from current discussion about both film and politics of the period was a film organization affiliated with the League of Nations.5 The International Educational Cinematograph Institute (IECI) was located in Rome, and in the years of its existence, 1928-1937, it was extremely active in the realms of both film studies and international politics. In what follows, I trace the activities of the Institute and the discourses of film and education it marshaled in an attempt to consider why its legacy has been erased from the field of film studies. In my view, an analysis of the League's interest in culture and the Film Institute in particular can be profitably connected to further investigations about the significance of political discourse for the establishment of cultural institutions.

In writing about this institute, now obscure, I hope to contribute to a growing dialogue about the history and historiography of film studies. Cinema studies transcends films, of course, to encompass an examination of the spaces for their production and exhibition, as well as communities of reception. Associated with an internationalist political organization, the IECI provided a site of complex convergences of political film activity during the pivotal years when film was beginning to be treated as an aesthetic, educational and scientific object worthy of an autonomous discipline. Due perhaps to its instrumental approach to cinema, as well as its location within Fascist Italy, the institute has, by and large, been left out of the extant history of film, indicating, perhaps, that film history (the story of how films are made, canonized and studied) is dependent to no small degree upon the authorization of film scholarship. For the most part, film studies has opted to cleanse film history of its taint by both official politics and the institutions designed to apply political aims through education. This article begins an unearthing of a forgotten aspect of the history of film studies with a view to reconfiguring the preferences of existing literature. The activities associated with the IECI provide a crucial supplement, I believe, to other more well known organizations of the period, such as the BFI, MoMA and the Soviet school, and its journal can be compared to Close Up, Sight and Sound, and Experimental Cinema.

THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS AND FILM POLICY

The League of Nations was established in the wake of World War I to provide a new organ of diplomacy for the six major world powers, also known as the "concert of Europe": Russia, Austria, Germany, France, Britain and Italy.

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