John MacKay
IFK_Senior Fellow

Duration of fellowship
01. October 2019 bis 31. January 2020

John MacKay


Avant-doc east and west


While at the IFK, John MacKay plans to examine the relationships between avant-garde and documentary filmmaking in the USSR-Russia and Western Europe, with a particular focus on the response of Austrian avant-garde and documentary filmmakers to early Soviet film. The reception of Vertov in Austria has been of unusual duration and importance, involving major film restorations and digitization, exhibition, scholarship, conferences, translations and (not least) archiving. He will consider the impact of Soviet film on actual filmmaking practice in Austria. To this end, he will not only watch a great many hard-to-see films, but will also conduct interviews with filmmakers and critics, focusing on figures such as Peter Kubelka, VALIE EXPORT, the late Kurt Kren, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Angela Summereder, and the late Michael Glawogger. He wants to hear directly from filmmakers and their collaborators about their own work, and about how their own encounter with Soviet filmmaking helped to shape it.


John MacKay received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Yale University in 1998. His teaching interests include Russian, German, French, and English language and literature; comparative studies of poetry; literary theory; film history, theory, and aesthetics; documentary film; intellectual history (particularly comparative studies in modernity); Marxism; history of hermeneutics; literature and slavery; utopias; world cinema; and collage across the arts.


Film Theory: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford/New York 2020; Dziga Vertov: Life and Work, vol. 1, Boston 2018; True Songs of Freedom: The Russian and Russo-Soviet Reception of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Wisconsin 2013; Inscription and Modernity: From Wordsworth to Mandelstam, Indiana 2006.

  • Lecture

It is impossible to grasp Dziga Vertov’s film and theoretical work independently of the ideology of progress. If we accept that this ideology no longer carries the same force for the left, how are we to rethink Vertov’s work, more than 100 years after the 1917 Revolution? Is a Communist film practice possible absent some ideology of progress?