Driftwood: Colin Ross

Colin Ross, 1926
December 3, 2017

Research project, online publication and presentation

He was the most famous travel reporter of the Weimar Republic aside from Egon Erwin Kisch. His films were well known from London to Moscow. Vienna-born Colin Ross (1885-1945) was one of the most successful travelogue filmmakers and writers in the German-speaking world for over three decades. In the meantime, partly due to his involvement with National Socialism from 1933, he has been largely forgotten. For the last two years, a research project started at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for History and Society has been studying the one-man travel multimedia system Colin Ross as a pop cultural phenomenon of his time.

The collection of Ross's films donated to the Austrian Film Museum in the late 1980s by his daughter was the starting point for the project. The materials include previously unknown footage of an American journey from the late 1930s that has never been edited into a film. As part of the project, most of the materials in the collection have been preserved in both analogue and digital formats.

These film materials have now been made accessible on the website Mapping Colin Ross, where an online exhibition submits them to a double mapping: two journeys are traced on a map while 13 key topics form a mind map connecting these two journeys with the geopolitical discourse and lecturing activities of Colin Ross. The exhibition pieces include film sequences, newspaper articles, book chapters and other documents. The cinema screen is not always the best exhibition space.

What is to be done with film material that does not fall into the category of completed work? What Mapping Colin Ross undertakes in the digital space, the Driftwood. Colin Ross program tries to do for the cinema. The Colin Ross collection of the Austrian Film Museum is made up of scattered hand-me-downs: Outtakes that never found their way into Ross's feature-length travel films or secondary treatments of previously completed films, as in the case of silent lecture prints. In its fragmentary arrangement, this footage contains essential aspects of the mass-cultural symbiosis of traveling and film gathered under the brand name of Colin Ross. These include the brazenness of the self-taught cameraman, the alert adaptability of the lecturerer to his audience, and the Ross family as production and storytelling principle.

On Sunday, December 3, excerpts from Ross's film materials will be presented by Nico de Klerk, Joachim Schätz and Katalin Teller, accompanied by contemporary text passages written by and about Colin Ross. From the alleged periphery of travel films, his connections with other media of entertainment and popular education clearly come to light.

"Exploring the interwar world: the travelogues of Colin Ross (1885-1945)" project was funded by the FWF - Austrian Science Fund and led by Nico de Klerk. The Website Mapping Colin Ross was conceived by Joachim Schätz and Ingo Zechner, the web design was done by kraftwerk | Agentur für neue Kommunikation and texts and materials provided by: Nico de Klerk, Kristin Kopp, Joachim Schätz, Katalin Teller.

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