Dreyer's Short Films - an overview

Dreyer became a director of short films largely because his intermittent feature-film production was insufficient to provide for even a frugal family. Though he did not put his heart and soul into these short film projects, as he did his features, once he got started he was quite serious about his craft. His work in short films was made possible by the veritable boom in Danish short-film production during and right after the war. Dreyer’s excursion into short films stopped the moment he was granted the license to the Dagmar cinema in 1952.

Dreyer’s respect for the work of a feature-film director is a far cry from his opinion of the craftsmanship he practiced in his short-film work.
"The truth is I can be of no use whatsoever," he wrote, leaving the sound work on Water from the Land to Mogens Skot-Hansen. Dreyer’s attitude here does not match his general approach to film directing: that the director should stay in control of every detail – including, of course, as significant a "detail" as the directing of actors.

On 27 February 1952, the Danish Ministry of Justice appointed Dreyer as director of Copenhagen’s Dagmar cinema. He assumed the post on 1 May and held it until his death in March 1968. Dreyer’s finances were now secure and he never touched short film work again after this date.

Though Dreyer is credited as director of A Castle within a Castle from 1954, closer inspection reveals that his contribution dates to the last half of October 1947. The film was shelved until Jørgen Roos completed it in 1954. Dreyer is also credited as writer of The Rebuilding of Rønne and Nexø in 1954, but his involvement in that film dates all the way back to December 1945. As for Something about the North from 1956, Dreyer wrote an opinion and never-used script for that film from 3-7 October 1951, just before he applied for the Dagmar license.

On Dreyer’s 70th birthday in 1959, Dansk Kulturfilm awarded him 90,000 kroner to make a short film – since 1953, the film office’s budget had set aside that amount for short films – but Dreyer politely declined the money. A similar thing happened in the early 1960s, when the film critic Erik Ulrichsen got the notion that it would be obvious to ask Dreyer who had made the preparations for his huge film project ‘Jesus from Nazareth’ to make a film on the subject of "The Position of Jews in Danish Society through the Ages" and persuaded Werner Pedersen, a consultant at Statens Filmcentral, to propose the idea to Dreyer. Again, Dreyer declined, musing,
A film about the position of Jews in Danish society through the ages? – But don’t they know I will soon be doing a film about Jews in all the world?

Chronology

An overview of Dreyer’s short film activities, including his other activities in the period only when they are relevant to the context.

1940 April:  Ebbe Neergaard’s book En Filminstruktørs Arbejde is published. Dreyer meets Mogens Skot-Hansen at the reception.
1941 Mogens Skot-Hansen helps Dreyer with the pre-production for Day of Wrath and proposes that Dreyer make a short film to convince the producers that he was able to stick to a budget and a production schedule. 
1942 July:  Principal photography of Good Mothers for Nordisk Film. 
20 November:  PREMIERE of Good Mothers
1943 1 April – 4 August:  Principal photography of Day of Wrath for Palladium. 
July: Correspondence about a possible sequel to Good Mothers about the Mødrehjælpen organisation’s summer camps.  
13 November:  PREMIERE of Day of Wrath
2 December:  Dreyer leaves for Sweden and signs a contract with Svensk Filmindustri on December 17. He directs Two People and writes two other films for the studio. 
1944 Dreyer is in Sweden all year. 
1945 Dreyer returns to Denmark after the Liberation 4 May. 
24 September:  Having completed the script for Water from the Land, Dreyer sends it to the Board of Health for approval.  
19 November:  In a letter to Ebbe Neergaard, Dreyer hints that he wants to make his next feature film in the US. 
November:   First shots for Water from the Land.
November/December:  Dreyer is on the Baltic island of Bornholm to write the script for The Rebuilding of Rønne and Nexø
17 December:  Dreyer mails the finished script for The Rebuilding of Rønne and Nexø to Mogens Skot-Hansen. 
1946 February:   Dreyer is assigned to do a film about the age allowance programme. He only writes the script, which is filmed by Torben Anton Svendsen as The Seventh Age
Spring:  Additional photography for Water from the Land. Dreyer writes the script for Husmandsfilmen (not realised). In April he is doing reseach and 2. unit on Theodor Christensen's Citizens of the Future.
June:  Script work on The Danish Village Church. Skot-Hansen does the sound work for Water from the Land. Dreyer does not take part, since he is travelling with museum keeper Victor Hermansen (National Museum of Denmark), preparing the filming of The Danish Village Church.
July:  Principal photography of The Danish Village Church. Dreyer concurrently writes the scripts for two cancer films. 
Mid-August:  Completes script for The Fight against Cancer
October:  Water from the Land is stopped. 
1 November:  Wishing to devote himself to his "American studies," Dreyer leaves the sound work for The Danish Village Church to Preben Frank. 
November:  London premiere of Day of Wrath, which is received with somewhat more enthusiasm than in Denmark. 
December:  In early December, Dreyer signs a contract with a British production company to do a Mary Stuart film. He completes a shooting script, but the company abandons the film in August 1947. 
1947 22 April:  PREMIERE of The Seventh Age
25 April:      PREMIERE of The Fight against Cancer
August: Script work for Thorvaldsen. Several meetings with Sigurd Schultz, director of Thorvaldsen’s Museum.
September: Dreyer starts writing the script for The Storstrøm Bridge.
Late September – early October: Principal photography of They Caught the Ferry on location on Funen. Immediately afterwards, Dreyer continues his collaboration with DP Jørgen Roos on A Castle within a Castle.
October: Dreyer writes Skot-Hansen, who now works for the UN Film Division in Paris, asking if he can get him some short-film work in the US. Skot-Hansen, naturally, wants to help, but Dreyer gets cold feet because he hasn’t informed his agent in New York, Mr Morris.
16 December: PREMIERE of The Danish Village Church.
31 December: Dreyer bills Dansk Kulturfilm for both They Caught the Ferry and A Castle within a Castle.
1948 22 March: Dreyer goes to America for a couple of months for Dansk Kulturfilm, returning in late May.
12 May: PREMIERE of They Caught the Ferry.
June: Principal photography of The Storstrøm Bridge.
Autumn: In autumn, Dansk Kulturfilm signs contracts with three directors: Carl Th. Dreyer, Søren Melson and Jørgen Roos.
26 August – 11 September: Principal photography of Thorvaldsen.
1949 26 January: PREMIERE of Radio’s Childhood.
June: Principal photography of Shakespeare and Kronborg.
5 June: Meeting with Blevins Davis about Shakespeare and Kronborg.
7 June: Dreyer pulls out of Shakespeare and Kronborg because of his approaching American trip.
10 June: Dreyer signs a contract with Blevins Davis on the production of a Jesus film.
1 July: Dreyer’s employment by Dansk Kulturfilm ends. In early July, Dreyer travels to Palestine for the first time in his life. The purpose is to research his Jesus film.
September – May 1950: Dreyer is in the US to research and write his Jesus film.
1950 22 March: PREMIERE of The Storstrøm Bridge and Shakespeare and Kronborg.
4 June: Dreyer returns from the US with a completed Jesus script.
November: Dreyer works on the script for Filmen om de milde stiftelser (not realised) and writes opinions for Dansk Kulturfilm on Glob and Brøndsted’s script for En Vikings Liv and a pair of minor films. He unsuccessfully tries to persuade Ib Koch-Olsen to fund a film about the Viking discovery of America in 1003.
1951: Dreyer starts adapting Kaj Munk’s play Ordet (The Word) into a screenplay.
Around 20 February: Filmen om de milde stiftelser is taken off the production schedule.
August: In a letter to Ebbe Neergaard of 21 August 1951, Dreyer asks for short-film work at Statens Filmcentral. He has recently applied for the license to operate the Dagmar cinema but is in urgent need of cash, since the Ministry of Justice might take a while to make a final decision.
Early October: Dreyer writes an opinion on, and the script for, Something About the North.
1952 27 February: The Ministry of Justice grants Dreyer the license to the Dagmar cinema.
1 May: Dreyer begins as director of Dagmar.
1954 10 May: PREMIERE of The Rebuilding of Rønne and Nexø.
29 September: PREMIERE of A Castle within a Castle.
1955: Water from the Land is definitively dropped from the Ministerial Film Committee’s production schedule.
1956 11 June: PREMIERE of Something About the North.

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