Bert Van Bork
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View Bert Van Bork's Mesa Verde: Mystery of the Silent Cities (1975)

Among the most daring filmmakers in the 16mm academic film genre, Encyclopedia Britannica Films’ Bert Van Bork's stunning camera shots augmented his painterly eye for framing and superior editing skills. Van Bork’s story is a fascinating one, not only in terms of his own personal history, but of his multi-dimensional relationship to many different art forms as well. Filmmaker Tom Smith relates a wonderful anecdote concerning Van Bork:

"Bert Van Bork’s great strength, in addition to his skill as a cinematographer, was his physical courage and his persistence to get the work done... by God he’d go anywhere to make a film with visual appeal, even if he had to stand in molten lava or film from a dangerous plane in low flight over canyons. He was a decisive and courageous filmmaker. Have you ever heard the story of Bert’s  trip on a whaling boat (filming 'Plankton and the Open Sea')? This was in the mid 1960s, before our consciousness was raised to the problems with this nasty activity. Over lunch with other producers gathered around him in Wilmette, including Milan Herzog, Bert told about the whale hunt etc… We were all transfixed by his sea adventure. When there was a pause in the conversation Milan, not one to be upstaged, made his own contribution on the subject. Milan said, “My grandfather was a whaler.” Everyone turned in disbelief. One courageous person interjected, “But Milan, there are no whales in Yugoslavia.” Milan raising his finger, like a teacher correcting an errant student, “Not anymore. Not anymore.”


Born in 1928 in Augustusburg, Germany, his art studies included stints in the Academies of Fine Arts in Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden.  Following the war, he began producing stark woodcuts of intense and terrifying beauty, often made from the pine remains of destroyed buildings and old furniture, depicting a Berlin struggling with an uncertain future. In 1954, he moved to Chicago by way of New York, working in oil on canvas as well as drypoint, displaying an influence of German expressionism in his portrayals of the landscapes of the American Southwest, and cityscapes of Chicago. By this time, Van Bork had become an accomplished stills photographer as well, and received the National Award for Outstanding Photography in Germany in 1954.

In 1957, Van Bork brought a film he had made, The Seventeen Year Locust to Warren Everote at EB Films, who then  hired him to produce mainly art and science films (the film was renamed Insect Life Cycle: the Periodical Cicada for distribution).  Soon, he became famous for both his stunning geological studies and infamous for his daring in obtaining footage under extremely arduous conditions, whether volcanic, underground, or aerial. He has made over 200 films, his list of film awards is extensive, and yet there is no extant complete filmography of Van Bork. Each of the Van Bork films listed in the cine16 filmography are exceptional, and are among the best short films ever made.

Van Bork's Eyewitness, nominated for an Academy Award in 1999,  "examines a unique genre of art: sketches and paintings done secretly by men and women who lived and died inside the walls of the Nazi death camps. This body of work, much of it unearthed for the first time from the death camp's archives, provides chilling testimony to Auschwitz's daily routine of torture and execution. Eyewitnesss documents the life and work of three artists - Jan Komski, Dina Gottliebova and Felix Nussbaum - who more than fifty years ago witnessed and painted the horror."

Van Bork's exhibitions of two-dimensional appeared frequently in the Chicago area, and released a book of his art in conjunction with an exhibition in Germany, Bert Van Bork: Kunstlerporträts (Passage-Verlag, ISBN 3-932900-34-0. Bert passed away on October 29, 2014. He was a remarkable filmmaker, a generous human being, and will be missed.


We are continually updating Van Bork's filmography.  Of the 200 or so films Van Bork remembers making, approximately 100 are listed below. Please contact us to add to this list.

For the PSSC series, Van Bork was the cinematographer on the following films:

Measurements (1958), dir. Norton Bloom
Time and Clocks (1958), dir. Milan Herzog

For Encyclopaedia Britannica Films:

Insect Life Cycle: the Periodical Cicada (1957)
(One-Celled Animals) (1957)
Art in the Western World (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)
Battle of Yorktown
Jamestown: First English Settlement in America 
Airplanes: How They Fly (1959)

Cave Community
(1960) Cumberland Caves, McMinnville, TN.
What is a Reptile
Single-Celled Animals: Protozoa
Temperate Deciduous Forest (1962)
What is an Amphibian?
What is a Mammal?
Chicago: Midland Metropolis
Echinoderms: Sea Stars and Their Relatives
(1963) Sea cucumbers, sand dollars, sea urchins, etc.
Life Between Tides
Life Story of the Oyster
Life Story of the Paramecium
Life Story of the Sea Star
Marine Biologist
Parasitism (Parasitic Flatworm)
Plankton and the Open Sea (1963)
Lines in Relief: Woodcut and Block Printing
Living Things Are Everywhere (1964)
Looking at Amphibians (1964)
River Valley (1964)
Desert Community: Plant and Animal Relationships (1965) 
Life Story of a Water Flea (Daphnia)
Living Things in a Drop of Water (1965)
(1965) Lumberjack culture
Plankton: Pastures of the Ocean
Life in a Vacant Lot
Artist at Work, The: Jacques Lipchitz, Master Sculptor
(1968). Van Bork also wrote a book by the same name.
Origin of Life: Chemical Evolution
Radioisotopes: Tools of Discovery
Siqueiros "El Maestro"
(1969) Murals of David Siqueiros at Poliforum, Mexico City
Theories on the Origin of Life

In 1967, a number of 8mm films and loops were produced by Van Bork under the 'Basic First Aid' series. Researcher Greg Javer notes them as follows:

The tally so far is 22 films in total (and there could be more in the series), and I've corroborated one of my inferences: the series was released in both Standard 8mm and Super 8mm. 1967-1968. Silent. Color. 2-5 minutes each. And with a credit to BVB on more than a 3rd of the titles I've found, I still feel it strongly possible he made the entire series. Ulf Backstrom collaborated with BVB through the years, and though I've only found him credited once (on a title credited to BVB), it's reasonable to suppose they worked together on other titles in the series, if not all of it. I've found no one else credited by name. And it's intriguing to notice the little hole in BVB's filmography that corresponds with this timeframe. I've found two other series (BOTANY and MICROBIOLOGY), some titles credited to BVB, shot for EB and released on 8mm around this same time.

In any case, here's the full list, broken out by those I've found to be credited to BVB; and I've listed the year when the credit is definitive:

"Made by Bert Van Bork"

- Transportation: Three-Man Hammock Carry, Eight-Man Carry
- Transportation: One Man Carries, Two-Man Carries
- Transportation: Traction Blanket Lift and Litter Carry
- Cravat Bandages: Folding Shoulder Bandage
- Cravat Bandages: Forehead, Eye
- Triangle Bandages: Arm-sling, Open Triangular - Foot
- Shock
- Snake Bite: Treatment with Kit; Treatment without Kit - 1968 (Editor: Ulf Backstrom/Balckstrolm)


- Roller Bandages: Closed Spiral, Open Spiral, Spiral Reverse - 1967
- Roller Bandages: Anchoring and 3 Methods of Tying Off - 1967
- Roller Bandages: Recurrent Turn, Finger Recurrent Turn, Head - 1967
- Roller Bandages: Figure-of-eight Knee, Figure-of-eight Elbow - 1967
- Cravat Bandages: Elbow, Palm Pressure, Sprained Ankle - 1967
- Triangular Bandages: Open Triangular - Chest, Open Triangular - Head - 1967
- Simple Fracture - 1967
- Plant Poisoning - 1967
- Epilepsy: Insulin Reaction - 1967
- Burns - 1968
- Compound Fracture - 1968
- Bleeding: Direct Pressure; Pressure to Supplying Artery - Arms; Pressure to Supplying Artery - Legs - 1968
- Insect Bites - 1968
- Mouth-to-Mouth Artificial Respiration - 1968

For EB:

Fire Mountain
Heartbeat of a Volcano
(1970). Van Bork burned through two pairs of shoes while traversing Kilauea’s lava, and at one point, while filming, was prevented from falling into an abyss by virtue of editor Ulf Backstrom holding him by the belt.
Succession on Lava
Boy Creates, A
(1971) A sculpture film, made on the late, lamented muflats at Emeryville, California, with scenes shot at San Francisco's Playland-at-the-Beach (closed 1972), including footage of 'Laughing Sal.'
Earthquakes: Lesson of a Disaster
Legend of the Magic Knives, The
(1971)  A Kwakiutl legend is told through the masks of Tony Hunt, sculptor.
Ecology of a Hot Spring: Life at High Temperatures
Geyser Valley
(1972) Geothermal fun.
Indian Artists of the Southwest
Fire in the Sea
Mayfly: Ecology of an Aquatic Insect
Volcanoes: Exploring the Restless Earth
(1973) A riveting journey through magmatic hell. Paricutin, Vesuvius, Surtsey. Spectacular.
Energy for the Future
Monuments to Erosion
San Andreas Fault
(1974) Tremendous aerial shots, from the American Geological Institute series
Mesa Verde: Mystery of the Silent Cities
(1975, narrated by Jack Palance), featuring spectacular aerial photography, obtained only after the first pilot retained by van Bork refused to fly the challenging route
Archaeological Dating: Retracing Time
(1976) non-narrated shots filmed in Monument Valley and environs.
Erosion and Weathering: Looking at the Land
(1976) Grand Canyon, the Shiprock dike, and a weathered ghost town; exceptional cinematography
Falling Water
(1976) non-narrated
Indian Art of the Pueblos
(1976)  Baskets, pottery, weaving, stone, silver, Kachinas made by modern artists using traditional themes.
Biological Rhythms: Studies in Chronobiology
Volcano: Birth of a Mountain
(1977) Mauna Ulu filmed in process of formation.
What is Ecology? (1977)
Fossils: Exploring the Past
Richard Hunt: Sculptor
(1978) Junkyard artist.
Biology: Exploring the Living World
Christmas in Germany: a Story of Giving
Earth Science: Exploring the Planet Earth
Minerals and Rocks

Continental Drift: the Theory of Plate Tectonics
Energy From the Sun
(2nd ed.) (1980) Large solar collectors, etc.
Gift of the Magi
(1980, produced by Van Bork, directed by Jerrold Haislmaier)
Magic Shop, The
(1980, produced by Van Bork, directed by Jerrold Haislmaier)
Necklace, The
Water Cycle
(1980, 2nd ed.)
What is a Short Story? A Discussion by Clifton Fadiman
(1980, produced by Van Bork, directed by Jerrold Haislmaier)
Ocean Dynamics - The Work of the Sea (1981)
(1981, 3rd ed.) Negative placed on a leaf produces a positive; time-lapse, microcinematography
Rivers: the Work of Running Water
Groundwater (1982)
Rock Cycle
(1982) Sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks
Earthquakes: Exploring the Earth's Restless Crust (1983)
Evolution of Landscapes
Flood Forecasting
Geologic Time
Plankton and the Open Sea
(1986, 2nd ed., may also be titled Beginning of the Food Chain: Plankton)  
Protists: Form, Function, and Ecology (1986, 2nd ed.)  Parasitic intestinal protists, death of paramecium, window in cow stomach
Life: How Do We Define It? (1987)
Aging of Lakes (2nd ed, 1988)
Introduction to the Water Cycle (1988)
Viruses: What They Are and How They Work (1988)   

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