Film Exhibition in German-occupied Belgium 1940-1944. Ongoing research and methodological problems.

Film Exhibition in German-occupied Belgium 1940-1944. Ongoing research and methodological problems.
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Transcript 1 Film Exhibition in occupied Belgium 1940-1944: Report on ongoing research and methodological problems Paper presented at “ Me dia Politics ‒ Political Media"  NECS 2013 Conference Prague, Czech Republic, June 20-22 Panel “ Wartime Cinemagoing and exhibition ”  (Homer@NECS PANEL 5, 21 June 2013)   Roel Vande Winkel Associate Professor, University of Antwerp & LUCA School of Arts (Brussels) Associate Editor of the  Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 2 Table of contents 1. Introduction: Germany’s ‘reorganisation’ of Belgian cinema  .......................................................3 2. Film theatres in occupied Belgium: preliminary analysis .............................................................6 3. Film exhibition in occupied Belgium: preliminary results .......................................................... 12 4. Practical or methodological problems ........................................................................................ 15 3 1.   Introduction : Germany’s ‘reorganisation’ of Belgian cinema 1    Nazi Germany invaded Belgium on 10 May 1940, the king capitulated on 28 May. Hitler eventually imposed a military administration on Belgium. Hence, all propaganda issues fell under the sole responsibility of the Wehrmacht, more specifically of its  Propaganda- Abteilung Belgien (Propaganda Division Belgium, PAB). By supplying information, qualified staff and considerable financial support, Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda (RMVP) nevertheless managed to exercise tight control over the PAB. Through the PAB Film Group, the RMVP started reorganising Belgian cinema and assisting the German industry in colonising this commercially important outlet. 2  Little is known about the concrete collaboration between the PAB and Alfred Greven, Goebbels’ official  Reich representative in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Whether or not Greven’s involvement was substantial, it is clear that the reorganisation of Belgian cinema (1940  –  44) lived up to German expectations. Where Greven played a crucial role was the acquisition of key cinemas in Belgium’s largest cities through Bruciné,  a company with a Belgian history that Greven (on behalf of the Cautio- Treuhandgesellschaft) acquired through Belgian front men. According to a post-war assessment, Bruciné represented 25 per cent of all revenues generated by film screenings in Belgium. The PAB Film Group announced almost immediately after the capitulation that all distribution companies and cinema owners were allowed to resume their activities as soon as ‘certain formalities’ had been fulfilled:  1.   All film screenings were to include the screening of a newsreel, to be projected without cuts or modifications. This newsreel was to be rented from Ufa Brussels. 2.   Apart from the newsreel and a complementary short, the programme could include only one feature film. In other words, the pre-war standardised ‘double programme’ (two features shown consecutively) was forcibly replaced by the model German cinemas had already adopted in 1938: newsreel  –   Kulturfilm  –  feature. 3.   Only features accompanied by a German censor’s card were allowed.  These cards, revocable at any time, were presented upon payment of a special tax. 4.    No other shows or meetings were allowed to take place in cinemas. 5.   A fifth rule that was not even mentioned specifically as it had already been proclaimed on 31 May 1940 regarding all Belgian economic sectors: Jews were not allowed to continue their activities in the film industry In October 1940, another regulation would seize all theatres and film companies with Jewish ownership of 25 per cent or more. Many distribution companies were eliminated under these new rules. British films were also immediately banned. The Brussels outlets of United Artists, Universal and Warner Bros were closed down immediately ‘for having distributed anti - German films’  (before the German invasion) such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940). Branches of other Hollywood firms were initially allowed to reopen after the armistice. 1  For a longer, more detailed assessment, see Vande Winkel, Roel (2011 revised). German Influence on Belgian Cinema, 1933-45: from Low-Profile Presence to Downright Colonisation (72-84). In: Vande Winkel, R. & D. Welch [Eds.]. Cinema and the Swastika. The International Expansion of Third Reich Cinema . Hampshire - New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2  The same was true of cinemas in the northern French departments of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais, which for economic reasons were also ruled by the military administration of Brussels instead of its counterpart in Paris 4 The rules listed above, which the PAB Film Group issued in early June, laid the foundation for a ‘reorganisation’ of Belgian cinema. This reorganisation, which  took several years to complete, was officially inaugurated on 6 August 1940, when the Military Administration announced its ‘First Order concerning the    New Regulation for Cinema in Belgium’.  The order laid down several rules that can be summarised as follows: 1.   All film distributors and cinema owners were to be members, respectively, of the Chamber of Film Distributors and the Union of Cinema Directors. 2.   Membership in these organisations was granted exclusively by the Military Administration (PAB Film Group) and was, as the order explicitly specified, not a right that could be purchased. 3.   Companies were strictly forbidden to change owners or administrators without  permission. (This measure targeted non-Aryan Belgians, who had to be prevented from selling their businesses rapidly.) 4.   Further, the order confirmed several rules which had already been laid down. The screening of a newsreel and a  Kulturfilm were compulsory components of each cinema  programme. Every film was to be accompanied by a censor card. 5.   Contravention of any of these rules would be punished by imprisonment and/or a financial penalty, possibly including the confiscation of all property belonging to the noncompliant company. Three days later, on 9 August 1940, the Military Administration decided becau se of the ‘anti - German tendencies in American film productions’ to ban  the distribution and screening of all American films. The direct expulsion of all remaining American companies  –   an operation that was carried in out in several other German-occupied territories as well  –   was, together with the order of 6 August 1940, one of the Military Administration’s only direct interventions in the film industry. As in many other economic fields, the occupying forces chose to implement their plans for the reorganisation of Belgian cinema by using existing Belgian structures and organisations rather than overtly carrying them out unilaterally. All measures, whether direct or indirect, worked towards the same goal: the formation of a Belgian cinema corporation subordinate to the state and uniting all employers and employees in the film industry. Replacing all labour unions and  pressure groups, corporations were, in theory, supposed to defend the interests of the entire economic group they represented. In reality, however, corporations were deployed to impose the will of the state, in this case of the PAB Film Group. The obligation for all film distributors and cinema directors to become member of their respective associations, imposed  by the above-mentioned ‘First Order concerning the New Regulation of Cinema in Belgium’, must be understood in that sense. The PAB Film Group would use the Belgian Chamber of Film Distributors 3  and the Union of Cinema Directors 4 , which from 6 August 1940 included all Belgian film professionals, to force the Belgian film world into the straitjacket of corporatism. When the Union of Cinema Directors refused to collaborate, it was simply disbanded and replaced (October 1941) by a new, similar organisation that better heeded its master’s voice . 3  Dutch: Belgische Syndicale Kamer van Filmverhuurders; French: Chambre Syndicale des Distributeurs de Films. 4  Dutch: Vereeniging der Cinemabestuurders van België; French: Association des Directeurs de Cinéma de Belgique. 5 An important corporate step was taken when in May 1941 both organisations approved a long text specifying the general conditions of film rental. The agreement essentially codified the rules and arrangements that had already been established, but brought them together into one agreement, thereby facilitating control over their application and penalties for infringement. There is no doubt that the PAB Film Group played an important role in producing this decree, which probably explains why its rules became valid (30 May 1941) before the representatives of the corporate organisations had even signed it (9 June 1941). However, all prominent  positions in the corporate organisations were officially occupied by Belgian film personalities. After the war some of t hem, including the ‘Leader’ of the corporation (Jan Vanderheyden), were tried for collaboration. The corporate process was finalised in June  –  July 1943, when both organisations effectively merged into a single larger body. Oddly, this newly created administrative unit was not called the ‘Belgian   Cinema Corporation’ but the ‘Belgian Film Guild’.   Through extensive research in Belgian and German archives, I have found many documents related to this German ‘reorganisation’ of the Belgian film industry.  Most of these documents were produced by German or Belgian officials. I am now trying to combine this top-down approach with a bottom-up perspective, by investigating the effects this had on the everyday practice of film exhibition (and movie-going). On the one hand, I am analysing a database of cinemas that were in business during the occupation period. On the other, I am, with the assistance of students, reconstructing the film programs of cinemas in several Belgian cities. The next sections of this paper will describe some preliminary results of this research. I conclude with a short list of practical or methodological problems.
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