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Ford, Aleksander

(1908–1980), motion picture director. Born Moyshe Lipshutz in Łódź, Ford went to Warsaw in the late 1920s to study art. He was an early member of the avant-garde cine-club START, making short films—one on the working-class neighborhood where he grew up, another a portrait of Warsaw street vendors—that anticipated Italian neorealism in their use of staged documentary.

In 1933, Ford went to Palestine, sending footage back to Poland where it was edited into newsreels and a short feature; Ford also made Sabra (also known as Ḥalutsim) a fictional narrative on the Jewish–Arab conflict that starred Hanna Rovina and other members of Habimah. The movie was released in Warsaw in both Polish and Hebrew versions. Ford’s 1934 feature Przebudzenie (Awakening), based on a poem cycle by Julian Tuwim, is the story of three high school girls who assert their independence; it was heavily censored. The following year Ford’s Mir kumen on (We’re on Our Way), a Yiddish-language staged documentary on the Jewish Labor Bund’s Medem Sanatorium for children, was banned altogether, although there were evidently a number of clandestine or private screenings.

Ford spent the war years in the Soviet Union, where he co-organized and headed the Kościuszko Division’s film unit and the Film Studio of the Polish Army in Lublin; the latter’s first project (as well as the first documentary of Nazi death camps) was Ford’s Majdanek. In 1945, the Polish film industry was nationalized as Film Polski with Ford as its head. His Ulica Graniczna (Border Street), a Czech–Polish coproduction shot in 1946 and 1947 mainly at the Barrandov studios in Prague, detailed the war’s impact on a Warsaw neighborhood. The film dealt frankly with Polish antisemitism and the Nazi extermination of the Jews; its climax was the ghetto uprising. Delayed for political reasons, Ulica Graniczna had its world premiere at the 1948 Venice Film Festival and was first released abroad; by the time it opened domestically in 1949, Ford was no longer head of Film Polski.

Nevertheless, Ford continued to direct throughout the 1950s; his achievements include Piątka z ulicy Barskiej (Five Boys from Barska Street), which won an award at Cannes, and the monumental historical epic Krzyżacy (Crusaders; 1960), about the Teutonic Knights. He also headed an individual film production unit until he was dismissed during the anti-Zionist campaign of 1968. Ford subsequently immigrated to West Germany. Among the films he directed in exile was a West German–Israeli coproduction about Janusz Korczak, released in 1974.

Suggested Reading

Barbara Armatys, Leszek Armatys, and Wiesław Stradomski, Historia filmu polskiego, vol. 2, 1930–1939 (Warsaw, 1988); Bolesław Michałek and Frank Turaj, The Modern Cinema of Poland (Bloomington, Ind., 1988).