Total Pageviews

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

DOKer 2015: the birth of a major new international documentary film festival in Russia.

2015 so far has been one of the most difficult and depressing years for Russian cinema and especially for Russian film festivals. The starving of funds to some of the very best film festivals in Russia such as the 2morrow/завтра film festival or the Art Doc Fest which had its government funding taken from it by Culture Minister, Vladimir Medinsky, in one of those demonstrations of the assertion of bureaucratic and political control of which there have been many in the past two or three years. A similar threat to the Vologda International Film Festival (VOICES), (a festival which screens independent European cinema) has been only partially avoided. So while news over the past year has been generally negative, seeing existential threats to high-quality and well-established film festivals, there now seems to be at least one silver lining in this gloomy atmosphere. This is represented by the emergence of a new major documentary film festival from a team who have for the past four years taken documentary films from throughout the world to Moscow and the Russian regions. The team behind the Doker project consisting mainly of Irina Shatalova, Igor Morozov and Nastia Tarasova, producers and directors of documentary films, have since 2011 organised 300 screenings of non-feature films throughout Russia. This project, moreover, has finally led to a full-blown festival in which the links built up over the past years have ensured that it has a truly international feel to it. The festival will screen 45 films from 32 countries and five continents. The films will come from far and wide: from Belgium to Afghanistan, from Argentina to South Africa.


Victor Kossakovsky, described by Robert Greene as 'one of the greatest documentarians alive', will head the Main Competition Jury.

The jury too will be composed of an almost entirely international team. Apart from Victor Kossakovsky who many see as Russia's greatest living documentary film-maker and even according to one account 'one of the greatest documentarians alive'  (and who will head the main competition jury) and the Russian director, screenwriter and producer, Alexei Vakhrushev (who will be part of the shorts jury) all other members are from outside Russia. Greece is represented by the film critic Vassilis Economou who has reported from a number of A-list festivals and who writes for a number of film sites, the USA  by Anna Nieman, Poland (the camera operator Mateusz Skalski who was took the award for best camera work at the Krakow International Festival), the Danish cinema scholar Tue Steen Muller, Slovakia (Peter Kerekes, the producer of the irreverent documentary film Velvet Terrorists and the Portuguese producer Pedro Fernandes Duarte.

The festival run completely independently and on a shoe string will consist of three programmes: a main competition programme, a shorts programme and a special programme entitled "Cinema in Cinema" which will include films on the shooting process of films as well as about film directors. The opening film will be the South African film Calabash on the first ever football World Cup to be held in an African country:


The festival will take place in two stages. The first stage will be from Friday this week to Tuesday next week  (May 22nd to May 26th) where all the films will be shown at the DomZhur cinema near Moscow's Arbat. In September there will be repeat screenings of the winners and award ceremony. The organisers have announced a crowd funding campaign for the festival, the link to which can be found here: httt://planeta.ru/campaigns/doker2015

Free tickets to the screenings can be booked here: doker.timepad.ru and more information can be found on the festival site here: www.midff.com


Sunday, 3 May 2015

A Boris Barnet Project.


A book on Boris Barnet now seems to be a long abandoned project of mine: it has even been some time since I’ve re-watched a Barnet film. Yet while the idea refuses to leave me there has been always one issue that tormented me: 
How to deal with the weightlessness of Barnet?



If I'm not mistaken Evgenii Margolit once suggested that Eisenstein and Barnet could be seen as the two forces (maybe constellations?) in early Soviet cinema which pulsate and attract different, if not opposing, forces. …  yet while Eisenstein left a seemingly endless trail behind him of written documents which give witness to almost every thought process of his imaginable and so help illuminate his creations, Barnet left almost no documents behind him but his films.

How then to work with this silence of his? Compared to the verbosity of Eisenstein and the relative verbosity of those such as Pudovkin, Kuleshov, Dovzhenko etc who left many written accounts (even if not such detailed ones as Eisenstein), Barnet's reticence feels unbearable for any would-be author on a book about him? What could such a book look like?  


Maybe there is one solution. To turn a Barnet project into something that would illuminate not simply his cinema but the time in which he lived.

There, of course, is still the chance of writing a good cinematic account of each of his films attempting to look at them from the cinematic context of the time as well as his place in Soviet film and world cinema. Fascinating things would emerge if one looks at Barnet in the context of, for example, French poetic realism and exploring Barnet’s relation to his contemporary Soviet colleagues. Yet writing about Barnet could include much more than a cinematic account. 

Maybe one can see what one can learn from an anthropological viewpoint, from a sociological viewpoint, from literary studies, a studies of gestures, city studies, fashion studies and then try to recreate Barnet's films from all this. Yet all too often this approach is one that often kills the object of study by dissecting cinema from fashionable scientific approaches rather than the films still themselves remaining obscure objects of desire.


If almost anything could illuminate Barnet, maybe his films too can illuminate a whole universe of social relations in the first four decades of the Soviet Union. In a very different way than from the films of Eisenstein. Thankfully Soviet cinema had both Eisenstein the cerebral genius and Barnet the intuitional one: well clearly it's not that simple, but... While Eisenstein often seems like a sun that blackens out all other planets (Pudovkin, for example) there is a sense in which Barnet managed to transfer himself to another solar system so that doesn't need to be seen to be in any competition with Eisenstein. 

So perhaps there are things that one can learn from Barnet that one can’t possibly learn from Eisenstein and this resides in his more direct link to the mores and social reality of his time and to Soviet byt than Eisenstein does. A study of Barnet can thus be more a study of his time than a study of Eisenstein might be. 



I have often thought how just as a reading of Baudelaire led to Benjamin’s Arcades Project, a Barnet project could also develop infinitely into some comparable project of the Soviet times in which he made his films. 

Here are some of the folder names ready into which endless notes can be written: 

Red Pinkertonism, chemical/biological warfare paranoia in the Soviet 20’s (Miss Mend);


Virgin Lands (Alyonka);

the kvartirny vopros (Girl with a Hatbox and House on Trubnaya); 
amateur theatres in the Soviet twenties (House on Trubnaya); 
poetic/artistic disputes after the revolution; the poet Bagritsky; Odessa in the aftermath of the Revolution (Poet)
the history of the Russian and Soviet circus (The wrestler and the clown)
love triangles and the personal and the political (By the Bluest of Seas; Bountiful Summer);

Barnet as the poet of weariness (The Old Jockey, Whistlestop);

The emotional scenario (By the Bluest of Seas).
The spy thriller (Exploits of an intelligence agent) etc, etc.

Then there's the relatively unexplored worlds of the Mezhrabpom Studios and the lack of English-language studies of lyric comedies in Soviet film (if it were not for Barnet would there have emerged a Danelia or a Ioselliani? and what of the direct influence that Barnet exercised on his assistants Khutsiev and Gaidai who worked with him on Liana?).

Then there would have to be lengthy folders on everyone Barnet worked with: from scriptwriters to actors and cameramen: Shershenevich, Erdman (or to be more the Erdman’s as he worked with three of the family), Garin, Rodchenko, the émigrés- Otsep, Anna Sten etc as well as the story of Koval'-Samborsky who after acting in Barnet's early films left the Soviet Union, was an emigre, then fled the Nazis and was then sent into exile before his rehabilitation and reappearance in Barnet's Poet, the established Soviet actors  eg Nikolai Kriuchkov. The various theatres and directors from which Barnet poached his actors etc. (Protazanov; and the Meyerkhold, MKhAT actors etc)   



These are just some of the folders that come to mind when developing a Barnet study and surely these would just grow and grow. So this Barnet project is not going to be in book form any time soon...