Shooting Animals: A Brief History of Animal Film
In film animals become themselves. Film made it possible to show the way they move and act in real time. The real-life animal could for the first time be appreciated as the completely different creature it is. This was not only new; it was also frightening. Humans hence felt the compulsion to "capture" the animal again in the moving picture. Animal films are a reflection of the societies that produce them, their sciences and ideologies. But what does the human see when he looks at the animal?
In this programme, biologist Cord Riechelmann and filmmaker and curator Marcel Schwierin investigate the picture people form of animals in both scientific and artistic film. It is their declared goal to give the animal back its independent status. The superiority to which the human lays claim will be called into question from both the scientific and aesthetic standpoint.
The scientific animal film is largely shaped by the respective society producing it. In Europe it reflected Konrad Lorenz's drive theory and his concept of species preservation, taken to crazed extremes in the Social Darwinism of the Nazis. Soviet film by contrast was deeply influenced by Pavlov's reflex theory, according to which it is possible to divert and hence civilize one's inborn energies. The American view of the animal remained true to the behaviourist approach in film as elsewhere, positing that living creatures are born into the world as a tabula rasa and are then formed by their surroundings and society. The scientific observation of the animal gradually becomes an ideology of man. Artistic film dealing with animals, from Joseph Beuys to Peter Kubelka and William Wegman, and onward to Oleg Kulik and Roz Mortimer, focuses less on the animal itself than on the relationship between human and animal. It thus develops into a meta-critique of the animal film and the ideologies underlying it.
Cord Riechelmann studied biology and philosophy. He was assistant lecturer on the social behaviour of primates. He writes for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Merkur, Welt am Sonntag, taz and Jungle World. Author of the books Bestiarium (2003) and Wilde Tiere in der Großstadt (2004). His collection of animal calls was released in 2008. An essay on the forest will be published soon.
Marcel Schwierin is a curator and filmmaker. Co-founder of the Werkleitz Biennale and the cinovid experimental film database. His films include Die Bilder (1994) and Ewige Schönheit (2003). Thematic programmes in Oberhausen. Artistic director of the Werkleitz Festival in 2008 and of ArabShorts in 2009 and 2010. Film curator of the transmediale 10 and 11.
Contact: Kristina Henschel
We would like to thank all archives involved for the projection copies of the films they have preserved and duplicated or restored. Thanks to Gaumont Pathé Archives for the screening permission.