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Monday 9 April 2018

Russian Documentaries at Pushkin House.

Victoria Lomasko and her graphic documentary drawings.

In early May Pushkin House (the major Russian cultural centre in London) will be showing two Russian documentaries in what will hopefully be a rolling programme of documentary films shown there (and hopefully in a host of other centres both in and outside of London). The first two films to be shown in early May are included as part of the excellent exhibition of Victoria Lomasko's graphic documentary reportage which describes a whole host of rarely reported (or in some cases completely unreported) stories of contemporary Russia. The Lomasko exhibition is therefore one of the rare opportunities to start to grasp a real Russia from which one can slowly piece together an entirely different picture of today's Russia. Far from the headlines of spy scandals and geopolitical intrigue, Lomasko foregrounds the voices of those roundly ignored by all. And indeed the first two documentaries to be shown at Pushkin House reflect some of these subject matter and stories which Lomasko worked on.

Poster for Anna Moiseenko's 'Songs of Abdul'

On Wednesday May 2nd Anna Moiseenko's film Songs of Abdul will be shown. Moiseenko, a student of Russia's most indefitagible pedagogue of documentary cinema formation and an impressive filmmaker in her own right (Marina Razbezhkina), has suceeded in this fascinating portrait of Abdulmamad Bekmamadov in a number of extraordinary ways of portraying the protagonist which illuminates the very social fabric of contemporary Russia. Often Russian documentaries concentrate on individual protagonists within their social sphere or in some cases they branch out towards collective portraits (some particulary fine examples focusing on collective subject matter was Daria Khlestkina's The Last Limousine and some of Alina Rudnitskaya's documentaries also manage to go beyond this whether through her emphasis on both social institutions [the abortion clinic, the civil registry office] and the work collective [Catastrophe] or both [Blood]). Moiseenko, however, while moving from a collective tale (in her first major work she depicts life in a commune trying to restore a Soviet like utopianism in her feature-length debut SPARTA: The Territory of Happiness) to this more individual portrait of Abdul, a migrant from the Pamir Mountains, she manages to portray the interweaving realities that Abdul negotiates and so, more thoroughly reveal social realities. For Abdul's life holds within it widely differing social realities. A migrant dependent on low-skilled jobs for survival (and subject to many of the harsh realities of that Central Asian migrants face in Moscow) he is also a bard and much of the film consists of the songs that emerge and that relate his everyday tribulations. Abdul's life therefore is not so much narrated by the filmmaker but self-narrated through his songs. It is worth noting that it was very much thanks to one of the most extraordinary figures of contemporary Russian theatre, Mikhail Ugarov, (who sadly has recently passed away) that such a film eventually got made. For without Ugarov and Gremina's wonderful teatr.doc which opened up Russian drama to real contemporary stories and people, Moiseenko may never have got to meet the extraordinary protagonist of the film whose show was put on there. For those who do get to see Anna Moiseenko's film at Pushkin House there are many splendid moments in the film. One of my favourite scenes is Abdul at the Golden Mask award ceremonies, to me it is a wonderful depiction of contemporary Russian society replete with an undertone of Gogolesque comedy. The film itself has become something of a catalyst for further events. Last summer a massively attended festival of Pamir culture was organised along with a showing of the film. Something that may be repeated soon with the organisers extending this to include other Central Asian cultures.

The protagonist of Moiseenko's 'Songs of Abdul' (Abdulmamad Bekmamadov)

The other film which Pushkin House is showing in early May is Konstantin Selin's Chronicles of a Revolution That Didn't Happen.  Konstantin Selin's is another piece of Russian reality that has rarely been reported either by the international or the mainstream media. Selin's film on the long-distance truckers strike in Russia rarely made it to the international media (or even to the Russian mainstream media). [It was only thanks to admirable sites such as opendemocracy ru and the Russian Reader that the story did get out at all]. Yet it was an extraordinarily story. One brilliantly captured by Victoria Lomasko's graphic drawings and also by this film. A film which recounts the long strike that Russian truckers participated in and their growing political consciousness gained through their self-organisation and their experience of repression once their first timid moves of protest were rebuffed and the reality of the state corporate system of corruption was made clear to them in no uncertain terms. Selin's film follows the protagonists and reveals more about the present state of Russia than one could possibly gean from the media. The emergence and struggles of independent trade unions in post-Soviet Russian is not an entirely new subject for contemporary Russia cinema (Svetlana Baskova made an admirable feature film For Marx which went to the Berlin Film Festival and was based on her earlier documentary on independent trade unions) but it is certainly a real rarity to be able to watch such a film in the UK.

Chronicles of a Revvolution That Didn't Happen.

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