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The Kaufman Brothers

17 mins, 10 secs

English translation of Polish dialogue and text found within this film.






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English Translation of Polish Dialogue of the film "The Kaufman Brothers":

Translation courtesy of Peter Barelkowski

Everybody remembers this scene from the movie “12 Angry Men.” It was filmed by one of the world’s best cinematographer – born in Bialystok, Boris Kaufman.

Kaufman Brothers

Bialystok at the turn of XIX and XX century was flourishing. At the end of the XIX century three brothers -- Boris, Denis and Michail -- were born to the family of Abel Kaufman and Feiga Galpern, daughter of very well known rabbi. In the near future they would become the one of the world’s most famous three brothers of the cinematography.

The Kaufman family lived downtown at Mikolajewska Street (which today is named Sienkiewicz
Street) where, in their home, Abel Kaufman was managing the bookstore and a small library.

Picture of the stamp
 :  A. Kaufman’s Bookstore

In 1915 when the First World War reached Bialystok, the family immigrated to Moscow. Boris and Michail were enlisted into the Russian Army.


- Mikolajewska (today Sienkiewicz) Street around 1900.
- Tombstone of Reizel Kaufman at Bialystok’s Jewish Cemetery.
- Boris, Michail and Denis Dziga.

Adam Radziszewski (Art Club of Podlaska Opera and Philharmonic)

“Three Kaufman brothers, born in Bialystok, made international careers in the cinematography. The most known in Poland was Dziga Vertov. After he left Bialystok for Russia he was making Soviet propaganda films for a new government after the Revolution in 1917.”

(Men with Camera)

Jan Slodowski (Director of the National Film Board of Poland)

“During the enormous changes that were happening in Russia after the Revolution, Dziga found himself at the right place at the right time, and today it does not matter whom his work served. He created style to show ideas through montage of fragments. It happened that he was working for a Soviet propaganda but he was loved by all – leftists and the avant-garde – until today, because his art is above the politics and political systems.”

Already in 1917 Dziga (twenty-two years old) was making his first movies. Between 1922 -24 he was a leader of the group Kino Oko. Together with his brother Michail they made "The Man Camera" – a masterpiece of the world’s cinema.

Adam Radziszewski

“He created a new language of the cinema – new techniques of the photography.” 

Unveiling the commemorative plaque of Dziga Vertov in Bialystok in 2009 by the town’s Vice-President, Aleksander Sosna.

Boris, the youngest of the brothers, after the Revolution, moved to Poland together with his parents. After a few years, traveling through Germany and Belgium with a Polish passport, he settled in Paris. His future career was influence by his brother Dziga, who had traveled to France three times to meet him. He was showing him his films and gave him a camera.

Jan Slodowski

“He (Boris) represents the pillar of the modern photography in the cinema. It was unknown to Americans. Before everything was done in studios, staged. Kaufman wasn’t afraid to show real workplace or slums.”

Adam Radziszewski

“He made two films with a very well known avant-garde French director Jean Vigo. He made two classics -  "Zero for Conduct" and l’Atalante.

Jean Vigo friends included Bunuel and Salvatore Dali. With Kaufman he made “Nicea”, critical portrait of aristocracy spending time at the seaside resort. The distribution of their 1933 film "Zero for Conduct" was stopped by censors.

Jan Slodowski

“Without Boris Kaufman the cinema of forties and fifties wouldn’t exist. Directors like Elia Kazan, beautiful black and white films with characteristic realism, and the first film of Kazan – "A Streetcar Named Desire" with Marlon Brando. Kaufman was a very good cameraman. He knew how to use light to create dark or realistic atmosphere.”

The biggest success came after he began working with Elia Kazan. In 1954 “On the Waterfront” received eight Oscars including one for Boris Kaufman. Another film of Kazan and Kaufman, “Baby Doll”, was also nominated for Oscars. In the later days he was also working with another famous director, Sidney Lumet. In “12 Angry Men” he was a director of photography. 

Jan Slodowski

“The least known, Michail Kaufman stayed in the Soviet Union, working as a screenwriter and director.”

Adam Radziszewski

“He was making documentary films, but also future film as a cameraman.”

Michail Kaufman was probably a news cameraman during Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. He was in Bialystok where he met with his parents. (Footage from Bialystok, 1939 after Russian invasion – in Russian).

Adam Radziszewski

“Today when I talk with directors, actors or cameramen (some of them famous) in Poland, many of them can’t recognize Boris and Dziga films and only few know that they were born in Bialystok. Our goal is to return the memory of those people to Bialystok and Poland.”

Boris Kaufman (1897 – 1980)

He made about fifty films.

In the 1920s and 30s he worked with Jean Vigo, French director. After France’s capitulation he immigrated to Canada, where he worked together with John Grierson for National Film Board of Canada.

After, in USA he worked with Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet and Otto Preminger.

For the film “On the Waterfront” in 1954, with Marlon Brando, he received an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and one year later the Golden Globe Award.

David Denis Kaufman – Dziga Viertov (1896 – 1954)

Director, screenwriter, cameraman and journalist. He created the idea of the News Flash. He was one of the greatest documentarians  in the history of cinema. He declared a radical manifest criticizing western cinema which created the idealized world of capitalism. He demanded that he film the simple, ordinary men. From 1922–4 he was a leader of an experimental group KINO OKO, printing the bulletin Kinoprawda (Cinema of Truth). In the 1960s French cinematographers used this term for their Cinema Verite.

Moisei Michail Kaufman (1897 – 1979)

In 1920 he joined KINO OKO and co-edited  Kinoprawda. In 1929 he made “Man with Camera”, directed by Dziga Viertov. His takes of speeding trains, streetcars, miners are part of the history of cinema.

He never received a Soviet passport or exit visa.


Film from Tomek Wisniewski
Bialystok, Poland



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