Films of the Balkan Wars

By Bottomore, Stephen | Journal of Film Preservation, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Films of the Balkan Wars


Bottomore, Stephen, Journal of Film Preservation


«The cameras caught all the work or at least a good deal of the work of murder and destruction that followed the retreat... You see one prosperous little town turned into a bloody shambles. You see fifteen ... hostages ... lying dead on the ground, they having been shot because they were unable to furnish the ransom demanded...».

This gruesome description sounds like a film about the Balkan war. And that is indeed what it is, not from the current war, but from the bloody conflict which was convulsing the Balkans exactly eighty years ago.

The Balkan War (1912-13) began with the states of the region -Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia - combining to force the Turks out of the Balkans. But, much as today, Balkan alliances are fragile and temporary, and the victorious allies quarrelled amongst themselves, Bulgaria losing the resulting war with Greece and Serbia. The two wars were major media events and attracted literally hundreds of journalists (including F.T. Marinetti, the futurist poet, and Leon Trotsky, then working for a Kiev newspaper).

At least twenty film cameramen were also there at one time or another, from many countries including France, Greece, Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Great Britain, Australia, Germany and Denmark.

This was not by any means the first filmed war (that was back in 1897), but it was the first in which the new newsreel companies were fully operational, and it was for these companies that most of the cameramen were working.

Gaumont, Pathé, Eclair, Jury's, Drankov, Cines, Kinemacolor and Topical, all made a major effort to record the war on film, and many of their films were exhibited; most merely showing troop movements and the background to the war, but some including scenes taken on the actual battleground, with guns firing and men dying. Many accounts of the filming survive in the trade press, and others are recorded in books written by war correspondents in the years following the wars.

Films of the Balkan wars survive in the following archives:

Jugoslavia: the Jugoslovenska Kinoteka preserves several thousand metres.

Greece: there are films at Tainiothiki tis Ellados and in other collections.

UK: three fragments are in the National Film Archive; Jury's film made by Sir Bryan Leighton is in the Imperial War Museum; a Gaumont film is in the Reuters (formerly Visnews) collection.

Belgium: one Eclair film has been preserved by the Cinematheque Royale.

Netherlands: the Nederlands Filmmuseum has one Pathé Journal (Courant), partly about the 1st Balkan war.

It is also believed that the Bulgarska Nacionalna Filmoteka preserves at least one film, and other East European archives probably have others.

Today the Balkan wars have been almost forgotten, confused in the perceptions of many people with the Great War (1914-18) which followed closely. 1 suspect that the same may have happened with surviving films of the Balkan wars, with some of these quite possibly having been catalogued mistakenly under Balkan actions in the First World War (though of course I cannot know this for sure). …

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