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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

New Russian Documentaries in the Pipeline.

One of the many events of Moscow Business Square this year during its Day of Documentary Films was the presentation of a number of Russian documentary projects which are in various stages of production. The world of Russian documentary is, in many ways, a very specific one and unjustly neglected one and the projects presented before a jury which included Nick Fraser were films with differing aesthetics and approaches but which all managed to offer insights into Russian reality.

Vlad Ketkovich, one of the most active Russian documentary film producers who is behind two of the most documentary film projects presented at this year's Moscow Business Square.
The entry judged by the jury to be the most successful project was Dmitry Vasyukov's Happy People: Altai. It is part of a documentary cycle devoted to filming different communities of people living in harsh nature but in a harmonious way. The film team has launched a very successful crowd funding scheme and given the fact that a previous film in this cycle was made with the help Werner Herzog, this alone could draw the curiosity of an informed film buff. Here is a clip from one of his previous films in the cycle:

Tatiana Soboleva- the director of Siberia's Floating Hospital- a film which explores a community on the Russian periphery, its way of life and how it interacts with the few outsiders (a group of doctors) with whom it comes into contact.
Another film that explores distant regions in Russia in Tatiana Soboleva's Heralds from the Floating World (Siberia's Floating Hospital). In the Spring as ice melts a group of twenty -mainly female- doctors board a ship to visit outlying villages and treat patients in this zone. The doctors are often the only connection that these villagers have with the outside world and so the film is much more than just an exploration of healthcare in remote areas. It explores the relationships within the medical collective as well as their relationships with their patients. It had been granted funding by Channel 4 and is produced by the Ethnographic Research Foundation and Vlad Ketkovich (one of the most active Russian documentary film producers). A clip of the film can be found on Vimeo.

Ketkovich is also the producer of Elena Demidova's Men's Choice. An exploration of men who work for Gazprom in the isolated northern outposts of the Yamal Peninsular in Russia and forced to leave their wives and families for long periods of the year in order to earn enough to maintain these families. Demidova has been active in documentary film-making for a number of years and one can ascertain a special style in her accounts of people's lives. She has a special ability in teasing out the special Russian touches of universal stories. Whether it is the story of Lesha who returns to his village destroyed by the flames of summer fires and whose retelling of his life and thoughts is one of the most extraordinary cinematic portraits or Sasha, Lena and the Iron Dragon two elderly people refusing to leave their khruschyovka apartment (five storey buildings first built during the Khruschev period but now seen as poor quality) marked for demolition. In their struggle to resist a transfer to another part of Moscow and the inexorable destruction of their home by the "iron dragon" (the bulldozer and, by extension, bureaucracy) we see all the humour and absurdity which becomes attached and sticks to their dramatic tale. Life, in Demidova's films, often acquires the essential  that Bela Balazs discovered in Boris Barnet whereby explosions of laughter arise in the most dramatic of tales.

Films which have a strongly social and even political theme abound and yet the ways in which they are tackled are very different. The moral purpose behind the film of Olga Arlauskas and Nikita Tikhonov-Rau's film Children of the State on the effects of the notorious Dima-Yakovlev Law makes it appear as a strong expose' of the political games which adult politicians play and their tragic effects on the lives of children and prospective adopting parents. A clip is available here. Irina Vasilieva's project Twice Born, Twice Dead looks at the story of a prisoner previously sentenced to a death sentence but saved by Yeltsin's moratorium and how the life sentence appears nothing less in reality but an ongoing execution. It also looks at the stories of two other people connected to the prisoners story including that of Jimmy Boyle. Another film Spirit in Motion looks at Russian paraolympians and is directed by Sofia Gevelyer, Yulia Byvsheva and Sofia Kucher and produced by the director of Russia's version of Michael Apted's 7-up series, Sergey Miroshnichenko.

Anna Moiseenko, a former student of Marina Razbezhkina,who is proving to be one of the most innovative young documentary film-makers in Russia today. 
Two films have as their subject matter migration or relations between Russians and other ethnic or national group. One is Nikita Sutyrin's beautifuly shot film Adaptation on the experience of nomadic Nenets children in a Russian school questioning what adaptation means in this context. A trailer is available here. Anna Moiseenko's film tries an innovative way of describing A Migrants' Life by having a migrant- Abdumamad Bekmamadov- compose ballads about his life in Moscow. A singer in a former Soviet folk band, his life in Moscow in the fifteen years has since become a much harsher one constrained to low paid jobs to feed his family. He has worked in a show regarding his life and that of migrants and this show won a prestigious theatre prize, the Golden Mask. Interestingly, the producer told the audience at the presentation of the film even his award at the Bolshoy Theatre didn't prevent members of the 'cultured and middle class' audience from making rather racist remarks on seeing a gastarbeiter in their midst proving that this theme is an important one. Moreover, tackling it in such an innovative way, Anna Moiseenko surely has found the right formula giving the voice and the story to the film's protagonist. Moiseenko, a student at the Razbezhkina school, worked on the awarded Winter, Go Away documentary and made a fine portrait of a commune in her S.P.A.R.T.A. The Territory of Happiness (which can be seen here).

The artist and migrant Abdumamad Bekmamadov who, through a series of ballads, retells the tale of a contemporary migrant in Moscow in Anna Moiseenko's forthcoming film 
Finally Sergei Kachkin's Perm 36: A Territory of Freedom is for Russian documentary watchers a long-awaited film. Coming after his debut On the Way Home, which found a way of recounting the routine and even mundane life of a couple in a subtly new way and with a very fine aesthetic, Perm 36 will give us a unique insight into the world of the functioning of the only gulag museum in modern Russia, the stories of three former detainees at the camp as well as the Pilorama event held annually but now in danger of being abandoned, along with the museum. A trailer is available on Vimeo here. Sergei Kachkin's previous film has been shown on television both inside and outside of Russia and the release of his new film certainly looks like it will prove to be a major event in Russian documentary.

Pilorama, the annual event which will be one of the subjects of Sergei Kachkin's long-awaited film Perm 36: A Territory of Freedom. 


  1. Спасибо, Джулиано!
    (даже в википедию слазила - про Белу Балаша, каюсь, двоечница, не знала))

  2. Спасибо, Джулиано!
    (даже в википедию слазила - про Белу Балаша, каюсь, двоечница, не знала))