In 2018, IDFA screened Dziga Vertov’s long-lost documentary Anniversary of the Revolution (1918). But there was yet another lost masterpiece by this pioneer of Soviet cinema. In 1921, Vertov edited The History of the Civil War, in which he told the story of the years when the Bolsheviks struggled to defeat domestic opposition to the revolution.
It must have been a great adventure for Vertov. He filmed street fights, attended military tribunals, and lay in trenches. Wherever he went he found devastation, damaged infrastructure, and bodies being collected on the streets. This is an unvarnished record of a country in chaos, marked by unstable alliances and brutal violence. So it’s understandable that the film’s producers decided not to release it at all.
The History of the Civil War has only been screened once before, in 1921. Nikolai Izvolov used historical records to reconstruct the original silent film from archive material and commissioned a new soundtrack.