Letter to Helene Schwarz (DFFB), 1984

Skip Norman

Skip Norman’s contribution to DFFB “volljährig” (DFFB “adult”) is one of the longer and more comprehensive entries in the publication. Apart from a detailed filmography and his answers to the survey, he also sent a letter to Helene Schwarz, the secretary who had been at DFFB since the school’s beginnings and was an important confidante for many of the students.

Dear Frau Schwarz,

I would really love to see you now. It has been nine years since I left Berlin and I miss Berlin and my friends very much. My development has not been at a standstill since then. As you will notice in my Vitae (pp. 5—7) I have been involved in making films. I have also become a Scholar. I received a MA degree in 1979 and a PhD in 1984. My special area of academic and professional concern is ethnography. Ethnography is the study of culture. I will combine my experience in documentary filmmaking with my research skills as a scholar to produce ethnographic films. These films will not only advocate better socio-economic conditions for the subjects of the films but they will throw light on the cultural, social and psychological strengths of the people being documented from their point of view. The ethnographic film extends the concerns of the filmmaker beyond the political-economic into the social-psychological. Of course the ethnographic film is far more complicated than I have outlined here because it is based on the premise of developing a methodology that will minimize the biases and ethnocentric perspectives of the filmmaker. I would love to be invited to teach a course in ethnographic filmmaking and photography, so that your students can learn that filmmaking can go beyond the boundaries of the feature (narrative) film and the documentary (advocacy) film into such areas as Visual anthropology, Visual sociology, and Visual ethnography. Filmmaking skills can be used to record, document and study society. The Visual study of society through the study of culture should be seriously considered as an area of film training for future social scientists, i.e., anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and humanitarians.

I didn’t intend to give a discourse, although brief, on my enthusiasm for bringing film closer to the lives of real people. That is to say, people as they see themselves and not as they are interpreted by film intellectuals.

I intend to send DFFB a copy of my dissertation for the library as soon as it is available. In the meantime, let me extend my heartfelt greetings to you all and reiterate that it would be a pleasure to teach the principles of Visual ethnography and the Visual study of culture. Please give Heinz Rathsack my warmest greetings. One of my doctoral teachers is his friend and international colleague (Robert W. Wagner).

Shoot of <em>Migrant Family</em>, dir.: Homero de la Cruz” /></p>
<p><span class=Shoot of Migrant Family, dir.: Homero de la Cruz

The enclosed picture was taken during the shoot of what will be an important documentary film on Mexican American Migrant farm workers in this country. The Mexican American Migrant farmworkers are the ‘Gastarbeiter’ of America. We are hoping to have the film entered in the 1985 festival program in West Berlin. But that depends on how much money can be generated for the post-production work.

Enclosed you will find my curriculum vitae, a set of answers to your questions (I didn’t answer the questions that implied experience in a German setting), a photograph and a copy of a newsletter that is published by an independent film production Organization in Columbus, Ohio.

Take care and please inform me of the time and place of the twentieth anniversary of class “66”.

Mit sehr herzlichen Grüßen

Skip Norman


Source: DFFB “volljährig”. Absolventen-Info 1984, Redaktion: Malte Ludin, Berlin: dffb 1984, p. 67. Image: ibid.

[Suggested citation: Skip Norman, “Letter to Helene Schwarz,” Rosa Mercedes 03/A (January 2021), www.harun-farocki-institut.org/en/2021/01/28/letter-to-helene-schwarz-dffb-1984/]

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January 28th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / A

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022
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