Among the most daring filmmakers in the 16mm academic film genre was Encyclopedia Britannica Films’ Bert Van Bork, whose stunning camera shots are augmented by his painterly eye for framing, and his superior editing skills. Van Bork’s story is a fascinating one, not only in terms of his own personal history, but of his multi-dimensional relationship to many different art forms as well. Filmmaker Tom Smith relates a wonderful anecdote concerning Van Bork:
"Bert Van Bork’s great strength, in addition to his skill as a cinematographer, was his physical courage and his persistence to get the work done... by God he’d go anywhere to make a film with visual appeal, even if he had to stand in molten lava or film from a dangerous plane in low flight over canyons. He was a decisive and courageous filmmaker. Have you ever heard the story of Bert’s trip on a whaling boat (filming 'Plankton and the Open Sea')? This was in the mid 1960s, before our consciousness was raised to the problems with this nasty activity. Over lunch with other producers gathered around him in Wilmette, including Milan Herzog, Bert told about the whale hunt etc… We were all transfixed by his sea adventure. When there was a pause in the conversation Milan, not one to be upstaged, made his own contribution on the subject. Milan said, “My grandfather was a whaler.” Everyone turned in disbelief. One courageous person interjected, “But Milan, there are no whales in Yugoslavia.” Milan raising his finger, like a teacher correcting an errant student, “Not anymore. Not anymore.”
Born in 1928 in Augustusburg, Germany, his art studies included stints in the Academies of Fine Arts in Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden. Following the war, he began producing stark woodcuts of intense and terrifying beauty, often made from the pine remains of destroyed buildings and old furniture, depicting a Berlin struggling with an uncertain future. In 1954, he moved to Chicago by way of New York, working in oil on canvas as well as drypoint, displaying an influence of German expressionism in his portrayals of the landscapes of the American Southwest, and cityscapes of Chicago. By this time, Van Bork had become an accomplished stills photographer as well, and received the National Award for Outstanding Photography in Germany in 1954.
In 1957, Van Bork brought a film he had made, The Seventeen Year Locust to Warren Everote at EB Films, who then hired him to produce mainly art and science films (the film was renamed Insect Life Cycle: the Periodical Cicada for distribution). Soon, he became famous for both his stunning geological studies and infamous for his daring in obtaining footage under extremely arduous conditions, whether volcanic, underground, or aerial. He has made over 200 films, his list of film awards is extensive, and yet there is no extant complete filmography of Van Bork. Each of the Van Bork films listed in the cine16 filmography are exceptional, and are among the best short films ever made.
Van Bork's Eyewitness, nominated for an Academy Award in 1999, "examines a unique genre of art: sketches and paintings done secretly by men and women who lived and died inside the walls of the Nazi death camps. This body of work, much of it unearthed for the first time from the death camp's archives, provides chilling testimony to Auschwitz's daily routine of torture and execution. Eyewitnesss documents the life and work of three artists - Jan Komski, Dina Gottliebova and Felix Nussbaum - who more than fifty years ago witnessed and painted the horror."
Van Bork's exhibitions of two-dimensional art continue to appear in the Chicago area, and he has released a book of his art in conjunction with an exhibition in Germany, Bert Van Bork: Kunstlerporträts (Passage-Verlag, ISBN 3-932900-34-0.
We are attempting to complete Van Bork's filmography. Of the 200 or so films Van Bork remembers making, approximately 100 are listed below.
For the PSSC series, Van Bork was the cinematographer on the following films:
For Encyclopaedia Britannica Films:
Insect Life Cycle: the Periodical Cicada (1957)
In 1967, a number of 8mm films and loops were produced by Van Bork under the 'Basic First Aid' series. Researcher Greg Javer notes them as follows:
The tally so far is 22 films in total (and there could be more in the series), and I've corroborated one of my inferences: the series was released in both Standard 8mm and Super 8mm. 1967-1968. Silent. Color. 2-5 minutes each. And with a credit to BVB on more than a 3rd of the titles I've found, I still feel it strongly possible he made the entire series. Ulf Backstrom collaborated with BVB through the years, and though I've only found him credited once (on a title credited to BVB), it's reasonable to suppose they worked together on other titles in the series, if not all of it. I've found no one else credited by name. And it's intriguing to notice the little hole in BVB's filmography that corresponds with this timeframe. I've found two other series (BOTANY and MICROBIOLOGY), some titles credited to BVB, shot for EB and released on 8mm around this same time.
In any case, here's the full list, broken out by those I've found to be credited to BVB; and I've listed the year when the credit is definitive:
"Made by Bert Van Bork"
- Transportation: Three-Man Hammock Carry, Eight-Man Carry
- Transportation: One Man Carries, Two-Man Carries
- Transportation: Traction Blanket Lift and Litter Carry
- Cravat Bandages: Folding Shoulder Bandage
- Cravat Bandages: Forehead, Eye
- Triangle Bandages: Arm-sling, Open Triangular - Foot
- Snake Bite: Treatment with Kit; Treatment without Kit - 1968 (Editor: Ulf Backstrom/Balckstrolm)
- Roller Bandages: Closed Spiral, Open Spiral, Spiral Reverse - 1967
- Roller Bandages: Anchoring and 3 Methods of Tying Off - 1967
- Roller Bandages: Recurrent Turn, Finger Recurrent Turn, Head - 1967
- Roller Bandages: Figure-of-eight Knee, Figure-of-eight Elbow - 1967
- Cravat Bandages: Elbow, Palm Pressure, Sprained Ankle - 1967
- Triangular Bandages: Open Triangular - Chest, Open Triangular - Head - 1967
- Simple Fracture - 1967
- Plant Poisoning - 1967
- Epilepsy: Insulin Reaction - 1967
- Burns - 1968
- Compound Fracture - 1968
- Bleeding: Direct Pressure; Pressure to Supplying Artery - Arms; Pressure to Supplying Artery - Legs - 1968
- Insect Bites - 1968
- Mouth-to-Mouth Artificial Respiration - 1968