Helen van Dongen (January 5, 1909 – September 28, 2006) was a pioneering editor of documentary films who was active from about 1925–1950.[2] She collaborated with filmmaker Joris Ivens from 1925 to 1940, made several independent documentaries, and edited two of Robert Flaherty's films before retiring from filmmaking in her 40s.

Helen van Dongen
Helene van Dongen[1]

(1909-01-05)January 5, 1909
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
DiedSeptember 28, 2006(2006-09-28) (aged 97)
Other namesHelen Durant
OccupationFilm editor
Years active1927-1950
Spouse(s)Joris Ivens (1944-?)
Kenneth Durant (1950-72)

Life and careerEdit

Born in Amsterdam, van Dongen met Joris Ivens in her teens and eventually became his key collaborator.[2] She worked on Ivens' first films The Bridge (1928) and Rain (1929).[3] In the 1930s she was credited as the editor of Ivens' films including Nieuwe Gronden (1934), Misère au Borinage (1934), The Spanish Earth (1937), and The 400 Million (1939). Bob Mastrangelo has written that these four films "earned Ivens a worldwide reputation, and solidified van Dongen's status as one of the most important editors of her generation."[2] He suggests that van Dongen's most important credit was as the editor of The Spanish Earth (1937), Ivens' film about the Spanish Civil War that was narrated by Ernest Hemingway: "...almost 70 years later it remains a powerful testament to the devastating effects of civil war. The intensity of van Dongen's editing is an important factor in the film's impact, particularly in the way it contrasts the horrors of war with the beauty of the Spanish countryside."[2] Her final film with Ivens was Power and the Land (1940). Van Dongen and Ivens were briefly married in the mid-1940s, after their filmmaking collaboration had ended.[2]

In 1941 van Dongen edited Robert Flaherty's film, The Land (1942),[4] and she co-produced and edited his film Louisiana Story (1948).[2] Jon Lupo described their collaboration as follows: "Though both The Land and Louisiana Story are prime examples of Flaherty's filmmaking sensibility, much of the beauty and emotional gravity of the films is owed to Van Dongen's delicately focused sound and film editing."[5] Cecile Starr also credits van Dongen for the final form of The Land.[6] Van Dongen kept a diary during her work on Louisiana Story that she later published,[7] and that is considered an important record both of the film and of Flaherty's career.[8]

Van Dongen also produced several films on her own. Her 1937 film, Spain in Flames, was a compilation of Spanish Civil War newsreel footage that was narrated by John Dos Passos.[2][3] In 1943, she made the compilation film Russians at War using Soviet newsreel footage; the film was made for the U.S State Department.[1] Van Dongen's personal favorite among her independent films was News Review No. 2 (1944–45), which has apparently been lost; it was a compilation film of Second World War combat footage.[9] Her final film was Of Human Rights (1950), which she produced, directed, and edited; the film was made for The United Nations to celebrate The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[2]

In 1950, van Dongen married Kenneth Durant, and retired from filmmaking.[5] The two worked together on a study of the origin and evolution of the Adirondack guideboat. After Durant's death in 1972 van Dongen continued the work, which was published in 1980.[10][11]

Selected filmographyEdit

This filmography is based on the comprehensive filmography posted by Hans Schoots.[12] Schoots filmography incorporates the filmography in the book, Filming Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story: The Helen Van Dongen Diary.[13] The director of each film is indicated in parenthesis.


  1. ^ a b Schoots, Hans (2000). Living Dangerously: A Biography of Joris Ivens. Amsterdam University Press. p. 171. ISBN 90-5356-433-0. OCLC 302054378.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Mastrangelo, Bob (November 10, 2006). "Helen van Dongen Obituary: Pioneering film editor who left her stamp on a generation of early documentaries". The Guardian.
  3. ^ a b Nornes, Abé Mark (June 25, 2001). "Interview with Helen van Dongen". Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. Archived from the original on 2006-05-28.
  4. ^ Crittenden, Roger (1995). Film and Video Editing. Routledge. p. 158. ISBN 1-85713-011-1.
  5. ^ a b Lupo, Jon (2000). "Helen van Dongen". In Pendergast, Tom; Pendergast, Sara (eds.). International Dictionary of Film and Filmmakers. 4 - Writers and Production Artists (4 ed.). St. James Press. ISBN 1-55862-453-8.
  6. ^ Starr, Cecile (2000). "The Land". In Pendergast, Tom; Pendergast, Sara (eds.). International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. 1 — Films (4 ed.). St. James Press. pp. 667–669. ISBN 1-55862-450-3. Retrieved 2018-09-29. It fell to Helen van Dongen (who had edited Joris Ivens' later European films, and his just finished Power and the Land) to find structure for Flaherty's random footage and make sense of the changing government directives.
  7. ^ Durant, Helen; Barsam, Richard (1998). Orbanz, Eva; Bandy, Mary Lea (eds.). Filming Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story: The Helen Van Dongen Diary. Museum of Modern Art in collaboration with the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek. ISBN 978-0-8109-6194-4. OCLC 40221894. Distributed by the Harry N. Abrams Co..
  8. ^ Rotha, Paul (1983). Ruby, Jay (ed.). Robert J Flaherty : a biography. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-8122-7887-3. OCLC 9413091.
  9. ^ Achtenberg, Ben; van Dongen, Helen (Winter 1976–1977). "Helen van Dongen: An Interview". Film Quarterly. 30 (2): 46–57. doi:10.1525/fq.1976.30.2.04a00080. JSTOR 1211761. Van Dongen regards News Review No. 2 (1944-45) as the most successful of the wartime films she directed and edited. It was produced by Philip Dunn for the OWI [Office of War Information] , and had narration by Frances and Albert Hackett. Compiled from all the footage coming in from combat cameramen on all battle fronts, the film communicated the unity of human struggle
  10. ^ "Helen von Dongen Durant". The Barre Montpelier Times Argus. October 1, 2006. Archived from the original on October 14, 2009.
  11. ^ Durant, Kenneth and Helen (1980). Adirondack Guide-Boat. International Marine Publishing. ISBN 978-0-87742-125-2. OCLC 6738597.
  12. ^ a b Schoots, Hans (2007). "Filmography Helen van Dongen (1909-2006)". Archived from the original on 2010-04-19.
  13. ^ Durant, Helen; Orbanz, Eva (1998). Filming Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story: The Helen Van Dongen Diary. The Museum of Modern Art. p. 120. ISBN 9780870700811. OCLC 40221894.
  14. ^ Durant, Helen; Orbanz, Eva (1998). Filming Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story: The Helen Van Dongen Diary. The Museum of Modern Art. p. 121. ISBN 9780870700811. OCLC 40221894. A number of published sources list this as the first film directed by Joseph Losey; however, Helen van Dongen recalls 'Joseph Losey was the producer ... It was I who made all the breakdowns and sketches for the changes in facial expressions and movement frame by frame'
  15. ^ The credits for Of Human Rights are given in Durant, Helen; Orbanz, Eva (1998). Filming Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story: The Helen Van Dongen Diary. The Museum of Modern Art. p. 122. ISBN 9780870700811. OCLC 40221894.
  16. ^ Helen van Dongen (1950). Of Human Rights (16 mm film reel)|format= requires |url= (help). New York: United Nations Film Board. OCLC 22377084. 20 minute film. Screenplay: Joseph Moncure March. Editor: Ralph Rosenblum. Cast: Dorothy Peterson, Howard Wierum, William E. Hawley.

Further readingEdit

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