DFFB Survey (1984)

From time to time, Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB), where Skip Norman studied film between 1966 and 1969, conducted surveys among their alumni. This one, entitled DFFB “volljährig” (DFFB “adult”) was published in 1984 at the occasion of the institution’s 18th birthday. It mainly consists of filmographical data and answers to specific questions that the alumni handed in. The questions were sent in German, we translated them for this republication.


Arbeitest Du als Kameramann/frau, Cutter/in, Toningenieur/in, Regisseur/in, Autor/in, Produzent/in oder in welcher anderen filmberuflichen Funktion bist Du tätig?
Are you working as a cameraman/woman, editor, sound engineer, director, author, producer or in which other professional function are you working?

I am an independent filmmaker. As an independent I function as writer, director, cinematographer and editor.

Independent production makes it possible to function in all the important creative categories of filmmaking. One of the motivating factors for being an independent is control over content. Obvious disadvantages of independent production are the difficulties in gaining financial support and the limited opportunities for exhibition and distribution. Independent production is tied to a nonprofit ethos. As a result independents must rely on those agencies that provide financial support to nonprofit organizations. Such agencies are the brokers of the cultural and academic superstructure on the local, State and federal governments.

If the work of an independent is acceptable to the cultural gatekeepers (those who decide who gets money and how much), money is available. If the work of an independent is not acceptable (and this is not always a question of skill or competence), money is, obviously, not available. Although there is no direct cultural censorship, independents, nevertheless, walk a cultural tightrope because of the ethnocentricity of the majority culture. And most decisions in these agencies, that broker the little money available, are made by members of the majority culture. They are the ones with the decision-making jobs.

Although independent production is painful, frustrating, time consuming and exploitative, it provides the only avenue for the expression and advocacy that can be free of the onus of making money. But this also points to the fruitlessness of independent productions, because many films end up on the shelfs and in the closets of their makers for lack of exhibition and distribution possibilities. The biggest challenge for the independent is the making of a film that, because of its dynamic strength as a communications vehicle, demands to be seen.

Welche anderen Berufe oder bezahlten Tätigkeiten übst Du zusätzlich aus?
What other professions or paid activities do you additionally practice?

I teach filmmaking and study culture as an ethnographer.

Bist Du berufsständisch oder gewerkschaftlich organisiert?
Are you organized in a professional association or a union?


Welche Erfahrungen hast Du mit Video gemacht?
What experiences do you have with video?

I have some experience in using video as a tool for teaching industrial skills and social values.

Hast Du schon für die „Neuen Medien” gearbeitet? Erhoffst Du Dir zusätzliche Auftrage von ihnen?
Have you already worked for the “New Media”? Are you hoping for additional jobs from them?

No, I have not worked for Television since leaving Berlin.

Still from Situationen (Johannes Beringer, 1967) showing some of the DFFB students of the “Class of 66″—Holger Meins, Günter Peter Straschek, Gerd Conradt, his wife Lena and their child Alfa, and Skip Norman.

Würdest Du nach Deinen Erfahrungen heute die umfassende Ausbildung an der Akademie noch gutheißen? Oder würdest Du mehr für eine Spezialisierung plädieren? (Beispiele)
After your experiences, would you still approve of the comprehensive training at the academy? Or would you advocate  for more specialization? (examples)

The most important aspects of my education at DFFB were the availability of practicing professional as instructors, equipment and money. I, personally, found the rather eclectic study program of my class beneficial, because it helped to define the kind of independent production in which I am presently involved. But I think that students should be offered the opportunity to satisfy their specialized interests, e.g., feature filmmaking, documentary filmmaking, ethnographic filmmaking (a program that should be developed and expanded in the near future), animation, experimental filmmaking, didactical filmmaking, film education, film theory and film criticism. There are many ways in which film and video can find ways into the socio-cultural structure of society and a film school should not be restricted to a few popular and available choices. Apart from a solid foundation in the essential skills of filmmaking, which should be demanded of each Student, DFFB should broaden its potential for providing avenues for its students to use those skills. This can only be done when film is seen as more than entertainment or advocacy, but also an instrument for studying culture and society.

Gibt es in Deiner Berufspraxis Zusammenarbeit mit Absolventen bzw. Akademie-Studenten?
Do you collaborate with graduates or academy students in your professional practice?

I hope to continue my working relationship with Jonatan Briel.

Verbindest Du mit dem Filmemachen noch eine Utopie oder fallen Vorstellungen und Wirklichkeit für Dich zusammen? (Wenn möglich ausführlich beschreiben)
Does filmmaking still have a utopian potential for you or do ideas and reality coincide for you? (Describe in detail if possible)

I believe that ideas are a product of reality. If Utopia is understood as a synonym for wishful thinking then Utopias exist. Filmmaking is a concrete, complex process and its successful execution, in spite of the magic inherent in the making, demands the confrontation with real ideas, real people and real technology. Although completing a film project may seem utopian to the uninitiated it is nevertheless a product of cold, hard, facts. Now there may be some wishful thinking in the creative process, and if so, it has got to be clothed in planning, skill, creative initiative, political awareness and hard work. There are no Utopias that are not rooted in reality.

Was machst Du, wenn Du keine Filme machst?
What do you do when you are not making movies?

When I am not making films in actual practice I am making films in my mind. Otherwise I read and live to learn.

Source: DFFB “volljährig”. Absolventen-Info 1984, Redaktion: Malte Ludin, Berlin: dffb 1984, pp. 67–68. Image: Deutsche Kinemathek. dffb-Archiv, courtesy of Johannes Beringer.

[Suggested citation: Skip Norman, “DFFB Survey,” Rosa Mercedes 03/A (January 2021), www.harun-farocki-institut.org/en/2021/01/28/dffb-survey-1984/]

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January 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / A

Lauren Berlant, the brilliant theorist of “cruel optimism” and related issues, died of a rare form of cancer on June 28. The following, devastatingly optimistic quote is from a 2016 essay on the commons as “infrastructures for troubling times,” part of a book that they worked on with the typically double-edged title On the Inconvenience of Other People: “What remains for our pedagogy of unlearning is to build affective infrastructures that admit the work of desire as the work of an aspirational ambivalence. What remains is the potential we have to common infrastructures that absorb the blows of our aggressive need for the world to accommodate us and our resistance to adaptation and that, at the same time, hold out the prospect of a world worth attaching to that’s something other than an old hope’s bitter echo. A failed episode is not evidence that the project was in error. By definition, the common forms of life are always going through a phase, as infrastructures will.”


Some basics from the Strike MoMA site: “Campaigns, actions, and letters chip away at the regime’s facade from the outside. Inside, every time workers organize, defy the boss, care for a coworker, disrespect secrecy, or enact other forms of subversion, cracks are created in the core. Cracking and chipping, chipping and cracking. As the walls that artificially separate the museum from the world collapse, we reorient away from the institution and come together to make plans. Let us strike in all the ways possible to exit from the terms of the museum so we can set our own.”


via Hyperallergic on the environmental impact of blockchain referring to recent NFT (non-fungible token) art sales: “This is not the first time the art world has come under scrutiny for being on the wrong side of the climate conversation. Artists and activists have protested everything from the carbon footprint of physical art fairs to the fossil fuel money funding major museums. But some say the energy consumption of cryptocurrencies is particularly egregious, and research shows it’s relatively easily quantifiable. A study by Cambridge University, for instance, estimates that bitcoin uses more electricity per year than the entire nation of Argentina. (Ethereum mining consumes a quarter to half of what Bitcoin mining does, but one transaction uses more power than an average US household in a day, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.)”


Nicholas Mirzoeff on “Artificial vision, white space and racial surveillance capitalism”: “Based as it is on ‘epidermalization’ (the assertion of absolute difference based on relative differences in skin color), AI’s racial surveillance deploys an all-too-familiar racialized way of seeing operating at plan-etary scale. It is the plantation future we are now living in. All such operations take place in and via the new imagined white space of technology known as the cloud. In reality, a very material arrangement of servers and cables, the cloud is both an engine of high-return low-employment capitalism and one of the prime drivers of carbon emissions.”


Sara Ahmed on the performativity of disgust (from The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004): “To name something as disgusting is to transfer the stickiness of the word ‘disgust’ to an object, which henceforth becomes generated as the very thing that is spoken. The relationship between the stickiness of the sign and the stickiness of the object is crucial to the performativity of disgust as well as the apparent resistance of disgust reactions to ‘newness’ in terms of the generation of different kinds of objects. The object that is generated as a disgusting (bad) object through the speech act comes to stick. It becomes sticky and acquires a fetish quality, which then engenders its own effects.”

November 7th, 2020

David Graeber (1961-2020) on What Would It Take (from his The Democracy Project. A History, a Crisis, a Movement, 2013, p. 193): “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse. But the primary question is: how do we even get there? What would it take to allow our political and economic systems to become a mode of collective problem solving rather than, as they are now, a mode of collective war?”

September 7th, 2020

T.J. Demos on why cultural practitioners should never surrender, via tranzit.sk:  “For artists, writers, and curators, as art historians and teachers, the meaning-production of an artwork is never finished, never fully appropriated and coopted, in my view, and we should never surrender it; the battle over significance is ongoing. We see that battle rise up in relation to racist and colonial monuments these days in the US, the UK, and South Africa. While the destruction of such monuments results from and is enabling of radical politics, it’s still not enough until the larger institutions that support and maintain their existence as well as the continuation of the politics they represent are also torn down. This is urgent as well in the cultural sphere, including the arts institutions, universities, art markets, discursive sphere of magazines and journals, all in thrall to neoliberalism, where we must recognize that it’s ultimately inadequate to simply inject critical or radical content into these frameworks, which we know excel at incorporating those anti-extractivist expressions into further forms of cultural capital and wealth accumulation. What’s required is more of the building of nonprofit and community-based institutions, organizing radical political horizons and solidarity between social formations.”

August 21st, 2020
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