Dave Davidson tells story of iconic dadaist and pioneer filmmaker who taught at CCNY in 1940s and 1950s
“HANS RICHTER: Everything Turns – Everything Revolves,” a documentary by City College of New York Professor of Film Dave Davidson about the pioneering filmmaker, will have its premiere 1 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles. Richter, who was a major force in redefining art and film in the 20th century, was also director of CCNY’s Institute of Film Techniques – the first documentary film school in the United States – from 1941 to 1957.
The film charts Richter’s epic journey through the last century as he struggled to establish film as a unique art form. After being wounded in World War I, Richter moved to Switzerland, where he was associated with the founding of the Dada movement. During the 1920s, he created the breakthrough abstract animated film “Rhythmus 21,” followed by Dada classic “Ghosts Before Breakfast.”
After the Nazis forced him out of Europe in 1941, Richter came to the United States and secured a teaching position at the newly formed Institute of Film Techniques. Over the next 17 years teaching at CCNY, Richter influenced generations of American filmmakers by opening their eyes to documentary, experimental and European films, the likes of which working-class students from New York City had never seen.
“Through his work at City College, Richter became a prophet of the concept of film as art, and he was the inspiration for what we now call the New American Cinema Movement,” Professor Davidson said. “Richter was brilliant, but he is not as well known as some of his contemporaries because he moved so fluidly between art movements and also worked in all sorts of media, from sculpture to film.
“This has made it difficult for scholars to pin him down. We think this documentary will open a lot of eyes to Richter’s importance”.
Professor Davidson was founding director of CCNY’s MFA in Media Arts Production program, and served in that role until 2012. During his tenure, students in the program garnered three Student Academy Awards and four Student Emmys. The program is only MFA production program in the world’s largest media market offered at an affordable/accessible public institution.
His other documentary credits include “A Place Out of Time – The Bordentown School,” the story of the elite all-black school that flourished for 70 years during the “Jim Crow” era and was abruptly closed in 1955 – a victim of the rush to integration. Narrated by actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee, the film had its national primetime broadcast premiere on PBS in May 2010.
Professor Davidson was also co-producer and director of photography on “Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook,” a nine-part PBS series, directed by his Hudson West partner, Amber Edwards. Following successful seasons in 2010 and 2012, the third and final season was broadcast in April 2013, featuring Liza Minnelli, Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury.
In 2012, Davidson received an NEA Art Works grant to produce “Rescoring Richter,” a multi-platform media project that brings together contemporary composers to create new scores for Hans Richter’s breakthrough avant-garde films of the 1920s.
“HANS RICHTER: Everything Turns – Everything Revolves” will have its East Coast premiere June 26 at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, N.Y.
Clips from “HANS RICHTER: Everything Turns – Everything Revolves” may be viewed at http://www.hudsonwest.org/hansrichter.php.