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Beyond the trenches

During the years of the First World War, the European film industry produced more films than ever before, especially more feature films. At the same time, the bans on film imports led to the disintegration of the European sales market, and a number of further problems arose – to name but a few: competent men were drafted into the military, raw materials needed for the fabrication of films became scarce, shipping out film roles from European ports got risky, and investors easily found more promising opportunities than film productions. Thus, although various support measures taken by government agencies helped to increase the overall output, Europe’s production companies were not able to match the leap in quality that their competitors from the United States realised during the war. The effect of World War One on the European film production was, all things considered, a destructive one. When international markets reopened after 1918, Europe soon fell behind Hollywood. Formerly leading production companies in France, Italy, Denmark, Great Britain and other countries went bankrupt or had to withdraw from international business, even major corporations such as the French Eclair.
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Cinema at home

A great number of popular feature films produced between 1914 and 1918 revolved around the war. Most of them, however, were not “war films” but addressed the subject only in indirect terms: plots were set rather at home than at the front and broached issues related to secondary effects of the war on day-to-day lives, such as changing gender relations or loyalty conflicts. The absence of men from home, for example, provided rewarding opportunities for melodramas as well as for comedies, whereas the widespread fear of espionage and intrigue proved to be a popular subject for detective films and patriotic dramas. By referring to the war within customary genre conventions, such entertainment films contributed to the idea of national unity between the soldiers at the front and people at home. Newsreels as well were to a large extent comprised of items not directly related to the war, since audiences soon became tired of images offered to them as footage from combat actions but more or less obviously was re-enacted behind the front. View more

Wintersport in Österreich [1911–1916]

This footage from “Der Tag im Film” (“The Day in Cinema”) about a bobsled race in Austria exemplarily shows how an ordinary newsreel subject did look like at the time of the First World War. View more
Kriegs-Sonderausgabe der "Eiko-Woche"

Kriegs-Sonderausgabe der "Eiko-Woche"

Poster for a German war newsreeel, announcing new reports from the Western Front. View more

Scarpetta e l’americana (1918)

During the war years, entertainment cinema continued to involve soldiers, guns and other elements of the military. The Italian comedy “Scarpetta e l’americana”, for example, creates a humoristic sequence out of a shooting accident. View more
Messter-Woche: Allerneuester Kriegsbericht

Messter-Woche: Allerneuester Kriegsbericht

Poster for the leading German newsreeel, announcing new reports from the war. View more

Az Utolsó Éjszaka (1917)

Scenes of homecoming and learning about the loss of loved ones are a recurring element in feature films about the First World War, in particular in films produced after the war. Most commonly, such scenes feature returning front-line soldiers or prisoners of war. View more
U.S. Official War Pictures

U.S. Official War Pictures (1917)

Poster for “U.S. Official War Pictures”, painted by the Minneapolis-born illustrator Louis D. Fancher in 1917. View more

Harry wird Millionär (1918)

„Harry wird Millionär“, a part in a series of comedies about everyday life, is an example for German entertainment films produced during the First World War. View more
Messter-Woche No. 7

Messter-Woche 7/1916

Poster for a German “Messter-Woche” newsreeel, announcing new reports from the Western, Eastern, and Italian fronts. View more

Film production during the war

When examining films made during the time of World War I, one immediately sees that many genres are represented. New themes appeared alongside previously popular ones. It is this variety that we would like to introduce.
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Durchlaucht amüsiert sich (1917)

When examining feature films produced between 1914 and 1918 in Europe it is striking that most of them do not directly deal with the war. Film production chiefly continued to operate within the common genre conventions, from drama to comedy. View more
Galeotto fu il mare
Los vom Mann!

Comedies (1915/1916)

Film posters from the war years, advertising comedies that address gender relations. View more

Három Hét (1917)

“Három Hét” (“Three Weeks”) is tragic love story, directed by Márton Garas and filmed at the Hungária Film Studio in 1917. The female lead is played by Sári Fedák. View more
The face of Madonna

The Face of Madonna (1915)

Film poster for a drama, produced by Kalem Company in 1915. View more

Bandiera bianca (1915)

The pacifist feature film “Bandiera Bianca” (“White Flag”) was produced in 1915 by Cenisio Films in Italy. The plot revolves around a family that gets broken apart by the war: the father and the mother go to the front lines, leaving their son with his grandfather. View more

Filibus (1915)

Film poster for an Italian movie that addressed crime. View more

Isonzói-csata (1917)

With the outbreak of World War One, a strong demand for images from the front arose rapidly. Available newsreel accounts of military events were generally brief, only a few of them featured a longer duration. One example is “Isonzói-csata” (“The Battle of the Isonzo”). View more
Fior di male
Per amore di Fanny

Drama (1915)

Film posters for Italian dramas produced in 1915. View more

Herstellung von Granatzündern (1918)

This documentary, produced by the business-friendly Deutsche Lichtbild-Gesellschaft, displays the production of grenade fuses at the Gebr. Körting AG factory in Hannover-Linden (Germany), which employed a mainly female workforce. View more
No flirting allowed
Tillie's punctured romance

Comedies (1914/1915)

Film posters for comedies from the war years. View more

Sanz y el secreto de su arte (1918)

This very interesting documentary from 1918 does not deal with the war at all, which might be explained through the fact that Spain did not participate in it. “Sanz y el secreto de su arte” was made by Maximiliano Thous and Francisco Sanz, View more
I Asszony 3 férj

I Asszony 3 férj (1918)

Film poster for the Hungarian comedy “I Asszony 3 férj” (“A Woman with Three Husbands”) from 1918. View more
His temper-mental mother-in-law

His temper-mental mother-in-law (1916)

Film poster for a US comedy from 1916. View more

Children and childhood in the war

There are many images of children in films produced between 1914 and 1918 – some of them in fiction films where children are given the leading role. These films show children as heroes, dreaming of getting actually involved in the war, dressing up as little soldiers, helping their parents and their nation. Many other children appear in non-fictional films. Newsreels and documentaries from all combatant parties stress the fact that children are looked after in schools, orphanages, refugee camps, etc. Often children are portrayed among the ruins of the destroyed towns, where their innocence is contrasted with the atrocities of the war. In these factual registrations it is clear that the children are being directed by someone standing behind the camera, telling them what to do. The children themselves seem to be only interested in one thing: the movie camera itself! No matter which nationality or background, all the children seem to be attracted to the cameraman, they wave and look with curiosity in his direction and his amazing machine. View more

Il tamburino sardo (1915)

The child in this film puts his own life in danger and is presented as a real hero. In this sequence, this fact is acknowledged by the colonel who salutes him. “Tamburino sardo” is inspired by the popular book “Cuore” (Heart) by Edmondo De Amicis, first published in 1886. View more
La petite martyre belge

La petite martyre belge (1928)

This Belgian film, combining fiction and non-fiction footage, was produced in 1928 in order to commemorate the war. It tells the story of Yvonne Vieslet who died on 12 October 1918, only a few days before armistice. View more
National Doll League Children's Unconscious Doll Exerciser

National Doll League Children's Unconscious Doll Exerciser (1915)

First World War period 'doll', British Home Front associations. View more

Lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein (1914)

It is difficult to tell how much of this film is fact and how much is fiction. In any case, the children in front of the camera are clearly acting in staged scenes, although they may be really involved in military training in real life as well. View more

Kinonedelja No. 3 (1918)

A children festival held by the Soviets at the rural town of Mitisca. The newsreel is dated as June 1918, a time when Russia had already signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, thereby ceding vast territories from Finland to Ukraine to the Central Powers and bringing the Entente to an end. View more

Topical Budget 259-2 (1916)

Serbian refugee boys who are employed on a large fruit farm prefer marching to work than riding in the vans. Cut to open air playground where children play on swings and at tug-of-war. Similar to other newsreels with this topic, this item shows refugee children in a camp, having a good time and engaging in healthy activity. View more

Topical Budget 267-1 (1916)

The title card reads: “Serbians going into Action”. A Serbian priest blesses the troops as they pass on their way to the Front. We see a priest among a group of women and young rural children. In the background, a column of soldiers and laden mules passes through the scattered buildings of the village. View more
Photography during the First World War...

Photography during the First World War... (1917)

Horace Nicholls, the first photographer to be officially appointed by the Ministry of Information to cover the home front in Britain, has his photographic permit checked on a beach by a Sea Scout. View more

Topical Budget 248-2 (1916)

The title reads: “EMPIRE DAY. London School Children celebrate the First Official Empire Day. Wounded Australian and Canadian soldiers watching the Ceremony.” The first national observance of the Empire Day in Britain took place in 24 May 1916, with school children saluting the flag and singing the national anthem. View more

De Europeesche oorlog (1917)

This newsreel item shows the scale of destruction in the Lorraine region, which faced heavy battling already in September 1914 and remained one of the crucial and worse damaged territories throughout the war. View more

Camp of Gouda (1916)

This footage shows the daily life of Belgian refugees in the Dutch Camp of Gouda. We see a classroom with neatly dressed and groomed children, getting education about Belgian culture – the boy writes “Albert, the King of all Belgians” on the blackboard. View more

Mädi macht Krieg (1917)

In this fiction film, little girl Mädi and her neighbour boy Fritz first get into a fight about whose father is the bigger war hero. Afterwards, they set out to play war and outdo each other with strategy and weaponry. As they wage war, they are heard by the adults who come to punish them. View more
Beyond the trenches

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