Editorial: Skip Norman. DFFB and Beyond

This chapter of Rosa Mercedes 03 focuses on Skip Norman’s time at Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB) where he started studying film as one the first-year students in 1966. Apart from directing Riffi (1966), Blues People (1968), Cultural Nationalism (1968), and his thesis film Strange Fruit (1969), Norman was a prolific cinematographer collaborating closely with other students including Helke Sander, Holger Meins, Johannes Beringer, and Harun Farocki.

Based on extensive archival research, Madeleine Bernstorff’s essay “Transnational Learning,” the modified version of an article written for DFFB’s 50th anniversary in 2016, highlights the various transnational aspects of the film school’s early years, continuing into the 1990s and still to this day. Bernstorff uncovers a trajectory of encounters, exchanges, and critical engagement in films by a diversity of students from the Global South (and the Global North), the likes of Sofoklis Adamidis, Mehrangis Montazami, Kampopo Uazuvara Ewald Katjivena, Edna Politi, Gaston Bart-Williams, Carlos Bustamante, Irena Vrkljan, Sema Poyraz, later followed by Raoul Peck, Wanjiru Kinyanjui, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Auma Obama, Branwen Okpako, and Khaled Mzehr.

The other contributions to Rosa Mercedes 03/C result from invitations to engage with Skip Norman’s DFFB films. Taking a closer look at Blues People, Strange Fruit, and Cultural Nationalism, curator and writer Greg de Cuir Jr. has an amicable conversation with Michael Gillespie, author of Film Blackness (2016). They talk about Norman’s political and aesthetic concerns and make suggestions to situate him historically: “The history of film. Where does he fit in? How do we reinsert him in his proper place? Whether we’re talking about the history of European film or the history of Black film?”

In her article, Karina Griffith’s starts from the observation that Black femininity is largely missing from Skip Norman’s films. In a closer reading of Strange Fruit, Griffith detects a remarkable photograph of a Black woman in the final short color section of the film. “How can we understand this Black woman in this undulating text about capital, consumerism, and war?” she asks. “Is it a punctuation mark, a new phrase, or a space? We, as spectators, are already versed in the cinematic appearance of the Black Panthers, which include women who bear arms, not their breasts.”

At the International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen in 1968, Blues People made a splash. The film wasn’t awarded a prize, but was widely discussed in the media. The Filminformation 58, one in the series of information leaflets published by DFFB, both gives an impression of the conceptual thought behind Skip Norman’s film and gathers quotes from the contemporary news coverage: “It is rare that a film is so dialectically correct.” (Jochen Schmidt)

We would like to thank all the authors and interlocutors for participating in this chapter of Rosa Mercedes and sharing their views on Skip Norman’s work. The “beyond” in this chapter’s title also hints at the characteristic openness of this issue. In the months to come, we hope to expand the scope and add further contributions.

December 2021


Imprint: Rosa Mercedes 03/C, “Skip Norman: DFFB and Beyond”

Research Team: Madeleine Bernstorff, Elsa de Seynes, Kodwo Eshun, Tom Holert, Brigitta Kuster, Pascal Maslon, Doreen Mende, Volker Pantenburg, Alexandra Symons Sutcliffe

Production: Harun Farocki Institut

Managing Editor: Pascal Maslon

Translation: Ted Fendt (“Transnational Learning”), Colin Shepherd (“Filminformation 58: Blues People”)

Proofreading: Mandi Gomez

Thanks to Skip Norman’s family, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb), Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, Greg de Cuir Jr., Michael Boyce Gillespie, and Karina Griffith.

We have made every effort to clarify all rights of use with regard to the publication of the images and texts used here. In a few cases, despite intensive research, we have not been able to clarify the rights holders. Please contact the Harun Farocki Institut in case of any legal claims.

Wir haben uns bemüht, alle Nutzungsrechte bezüglich der Veröffentlichung der hier verwendeten Bilder und Texte zu klären. In wenigen Fällen ist es uns trotz intensiver Recherche nicht gelungen, die Rechteinhaber zu klären. Bitte wenden Sie sich bei etwaigen Rechtsansprüchen an das Harun Farocki Institut.


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December 13th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / C