FILM AND FACTORIES – PART II

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In many propaganda films made in Austria during World War I, it was necessary to convey to the nation and the world the image of an Austria where even the enemy was treated with great care, with the possibility of making him in turn helpful to the nation that ‘hosted’ him. Cinema and factories, then, once again formed an essential combination.

Once upon a time in Feldbach…

In the first part of this special section dedicated to the combination of cinema and factories, we took as an example the documentary Das Stahlwerk der Poldihütte während des Weltkriegs, made in 1916 and which immediately stood out for its unique directorial approach and its frenetic editing to highlight the grandeur and operation of machines in producing weapons, making for a classic propaganda documentary, also intended for distribution – where possible – abroad.

And yet, this particular focus on the factories that, in wartime, made possible for Austria to defend itself at the front, also includes a particular documentary that shows us a very different reality from the film previously examined. We are talking about the documentary Kriegsgefangenlager und Betriebe der Bauleitung Feldbach (“Prisoner of war lager and construction companies in Feldbach”), made in 1917 and focusing on a small reality within the village of Feldbach-Mühldorf, Styria, where, during World War I, the inhabitants of an entire village were forced to move, in order to make room for the construction of a lager for prisoners of war from Russia, who in turn were forced to work in the local factories.

This, too, was an important propaganda film. Here, too, it was to convey to the nation and the world the image of an Austria where even the ‘enemy’ was treated with great care, with the possibility of making him in turn helpful to the nation ‘hosting’ him.

It is interesting to observe how, in this documentary, differently from Das Stahlwerk der Poldihütte während des Weltkriegs, where an unusual directorial style for the time and a frenetic editing mainly emphasised the machines and their incessant work, almost everything is focused on the drama, on emotionality. Almost as if it were a real fictional film. And so the images, at the station, of the locals from Feldbach about to leave their village – complete with a focus on tearful goodbyes full of hope – reminds us in turn of the Lumière brothers’ L’Arrivée d’un Train à la Gare de la Ciotat . Here, however, the music has already changed. There is now time to think about war. And so in the village, a huge hospital, where every single prisoner of war will receive the most loving care, is built.

In the second part of the documentary, however, the main focus is on the work that each prisoner does every day in the local factories. The workers work daily side by side, in total harmony and serenity. There is a relaxed and jovial atmosphere. Strange, in wartime? Definitely. Yet, you know, every nation, during wartime, had to propagandise in its own way. And Austria too, in its own way, did so. And, like many other states, it exploited this new, important means of communication and aggregation to convey to its citizens and the world the image of a nation that fights, that resists, within which true values triumph over everything.

Two different directorial approaches – that of Das Stahlwerk der Poldihütte während des Weltkriegs and that of Kriegsgefangenlager und Betriebe der Bauleitung Feldbach – for a unique, important purpose. Events later did the rest. And these rare and precious documents stand as a perfect testimony to the spirit of the time, as well, of course, as an important chapter in history. And this has always been one of the great tasks of the seventh art, keeper of intentions and secrets, mirror of the present, storyteller of past and memory.

Bibliography: Das tägliche Brennen: eine Geschichte des österreichischen Films von den Anfängen bis 1945, Elisabeth Büttner, Christian Dewald, Residenz Verlag
Info: the page of Kriegsgefangenenlager und Betriebe der Bauleitung Feldbach on film.at