The Film Industry and Avant-garde
The meeting of the European cinematic avant-garde in the Swiss city of La Sarraz in September 1929 is now considered a milestone for the aesthetic development of film, as well as the very first film festival. In the eyes of the participants, among them Hans Richter and Béla Balázs, Alberto Cavalcanti and Sergej Eisenstein, Ivor Montagu and Léon Moussinac, it seemed as if a new transnational, non-commercial, and artistic movement–the first truly international avant-garde in the domain of cinema–was coming into existence. Among the points for discussion was drafting the statutes for an “International League of Independent Film”, which was to be initiated by the conference members. The objectives of this cooperative included subsidies for the production and distribution of films that combined medium-specific modes of expression with the “unadulterated treatment of reality”.
The five-day schedule of activities at the small castle in the Frenchspeaking part of Switzerland was diverse: speeches were made, issues discussed, task force meetings were held, an international association of film clubs was set up, and, of course, films were also screened. One idle morning, a minor cinematic prank was staged in the form of a film scenario that involved the fair maiden “independent film” being rescued from the claws of the dragon “film industry”. It has since become a mythic “lost masterpiece”.
One of the most important themes of the conference was sound film, which Walter Ruttmann addressed in a seminal presentation. Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Alexandrov had published their famous manifesto “The Future of Sound Film” the year before, even though the Soviet film industry was still a long way from overcoming the technical and industrial obstacles posed by sound film's inauguration. Ruttmann and the Russians thus ranked among the filmmakers who, in the fall of 1929, were interested in productively employing sound and refused to reject it per se, as so many of their artistically inclined colleagues had done.
At about the same time in September 1929, while the cinematic avantgarde convened in an old castle in the Alps, a delegation of European film industry representatives met with US movie producers at the Carlton Hotel in London to negotiate patents, licenses, as well as the sales and distributions of sound films on the world market.