Background

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The first short film Dreyer began work on after the war was a film about ‘tiny animals’ swimming around in farmers’ wells without the farmers’ knowledge. For political reasons the film was never distributed.

In 1944, a district medical officer in Kalundborg, Jens Jensen, published a study of the wells in all 309 households in Tømmerup, a typical rural municipality near Kalundborg. The findings were discouraging.

At a meeting of the Board of Health in April 1945 – including the pharmaceutical executive Johannes Frandsen, the consultant physician Erik Uhl and the ministerial head of division Jørgen Dich – to discuss propaganda options for improving the rural water supply, Dich, then a board member of the Ministerial Film Committee, suggested making a film.

Dreyer was assigned to the task. On 24 September 1945, his script was forwarded for approval, including to Dr Uhl of the Board of Health. In October, the Ministerial Film Committee’s production plans list the script as approved. District medical officer Jensen advises Dreyer and goes along on location scouting, though he is not present at the shoot. As film stock was not easy to procure in ration-stricken, post-war Denmark, shooting dragged out a bit.

Once the film was edited, Dreyer left to do research for The Danish Village Church and so was not particularly interested in being present for the recording of the voiceover by Asbjørn Andersen and Henrik Malberg. He left that to Mogens Skot-Hansen. As Dreyer wrote him in a letter,
The truth is I would be of no use whatsoever. The advice I can give you, I might as well give you here, which is to ask Henrik Malberg to be quick and snappy in his lines (please, no Jutlandish drawl) and to ask Asbjørn Andersen to be crisp, sharp and ironic in a quiet way (please, not loud).

Skot-Hansen, naturally, was proud and honoured but also a little anxious that his directing would fail to please Dreyer. As it turned out, he had no need to worry. Dreyer didn’t care. However, other persons more critical to the film adamantly did not care for the voiceover. Not only did a highly critical comment in the voiceover about filthy well conditions on farms fall afoul of the agricultural organisations, Minister of Agriculture Erik Eriksen also brought all his power to bear to stop the film, because he was concerned it might hurt agricultural exports and the reputation of Danish farming abroad.

For years, the film regularly popped up in the press and at Ministerial Film Committee meetings. The Committee tried to use the film material in a variety of ways, but nothing concrete ever came of it. Finally, in 1955, the plans were definitively shelved. The Committee had received a temporary reply on the matter from the Board of Health at year-end 1954, but still decided to wait for a final answer. At a meeting of 9 March 1955, the Committee decided to strike the film from its budget. The minutes of another meeting, on 12 October, mentions the film under Item f.:

f. Water from the Land.
Agreement to definitively strike this film from the prod. plan.

After Dreyer’s death in 1968, the Film Museum in Copenhagen screened a near-complete retrospective of his films. The programme stated that Water from the Land no longer existed. This prompted a series of articles, mainly in Ekstrabladet, about the "lost Dreyer-film." Later, the film’s footage was discovered in a safe box at the Johan Ankerstjerne laboratory, filed under the title of Brøndfilmen ("The Well Film"). In 2008, the film was restored by Thomas C. Christensen and Lars Bo Kimergård.

Det Danske Filminstitut CARL TH. DREYER - THE MAN AND HIS WORK

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