Anti-fascist film thought lost to Nazis to receive world premiere
A powerful anti-fascist film which was seized by the Nazis and thought to have been lost for ever is to receive its world premiere at the London film festival. The 1931 film Europa, made in Warsaw by the husband and wife surrealists Stefan and Franciszka Themerson, has gained mythical status in film history with several attempts to remake or reimagine it.
No one thought a copy still existed until it was rediscovered by chance in Germany’s national archives, the Bundesarchiv, in 2019.
The Commission for Looted Art in Europe negotiated the film’s restitution from the archive on behalf of the Themerson estate. It has been donated to the BFI National Archive.
The UK arts agency LUX also played a part. Its director, Benjamin Cook, said: “This is truly one of the most important film rediscoveries of recent years, a major lost work of the European avant-garde and an important affirmation of Stefan and Franciszka Themerson’s important contribution to cinema history.”
The Themersons were Polish artists who met in 1930 and began a lifelong collaboration as writers, publishers and avant-garde film makers.
They made Europa in their Warsaw bedroom. Based on Anatol Stern’s 1925 futurist poem of the same name, the couple used collages and photograms to create a film which articulated the sense of horror and moral decline they were witnessing from Poland.
In 1938 they moved to Paris and when war broke out they deposited a copy of Europa, together with four other films they had made, at the Vitfer film laboratory for safe keeping. All five were seized by the Nazis.
The Themersons built a new life in London. Europa was gone but not forgotten and in 1983 Stefan made a reconstruction of the film with the London Film-Makers’ Co-op. The couple died in 1988 believing the original lost for ever.
Ben Roberts, CEO of the BFI, said: “We are honoured to be part of this valuable film’s incredible story, by preserving Europa’s original nitrate film … and helping to make this significant piece of anti-fascist work available now and for the future.”
A restoration of the film, with a newly commissioned soundtrack, will get its world premiere at the BFI London film festival on 6 October.