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Monday, 19 April 2010

Schism in the Cinematographers' Union?

The spectacle of the Kremlin showing of the sequel to Mikhlakov's 'Burnt by the Sun' has been dampened by the exit of Russia's most brilliant group of directors, critics and scholars from the organisation that Mikhalkov has reduced to his private fiefdom in the past decade and more (the Cinematographers' Union). In recent weeks a collective letter signed by directors and film critics and scholars such as Eldar Riazanov, Alexei German Senior and Junior, Vladimir Dostal, Vitaly Mansky, Boris Khlebnikov, Andrey Proshkin, Andrey Smirnov, Naum Kleiman, Pavel and Gary Bardin, Daniil Dondurey, Victor Matizen, Otar Ioseliani and many others have finally brought to a head (yet again) the conflict in the Russian film world. Mikhalkov's dictatorial style and his immense ego have had disastrous consequences for the Russian film world. The loss of the excellent Museum of Cinema in the early part of this decade was perhaps the most grave blow and the possible demise of Dom Kino would be another body blow to any who want to preserve the memory of twentieth century Soviet cinema. The details of the conflict are long and rather tedious to go into but some of the effects have been truly shameful. The disgusting treatment of Marlen Khutsiev (in the photo) and the farce of the Mikhalkov-staged 'congress of revanchists' in February last year at the Gostinny Dvor had unpleasant echoes of post-war Zhdanovschina. Mikhlakov's suggestions that his opponents were part of some 'Atlantic' plot was absurd but his recent interview with the fawning Elena Yampolskaya in Izvestia really managed to plumb new depths. The two 'national patriots' managed to work each other up into a spiral of of spleen and fury against the opponents of Nikita Sergeyevich. The mention of Ioseliani's signature drove Mikhalkov into a denunciation of the Gerorgian filmmaker living in France as a russophobe and then Yampolskaya suggested that the whole band of opponents were a group of anti-Russian filmmakers. Suggesting that Riazanov, the Germans, Smirnov et al are all russophobes gives one an indication of how bitter this schism is and yet also to what absurd lengths Mikhalkov will go in battling his opponents.

The pomp of the Kremlin showing of the sequel to 'Burnt by the Sun' is, of course, the main news in the press but it is unlikely that Mikhalkov can gain any respect from the world film community when denouncing the greatest directors of contemporary Russian film as campaigning against Russia. Russian cinema without the Germans, Dostal, Proshkin, Riazanov, Abdrashitov, Khutsiev, Danelia, Smirnov, Sokurov, Bardin, Mansky would be the kind of cinema produced in the last fourties and early fifties (the time of the so-called film famine). This would be the face of Mikhalkov's call for a return to the 'high style'. It is a sign of hope, however, that his opponents are moving and organising collectively.


  1. Thanks for covering this so I don't have to. :) I think that politics are the most tedious and boring part of the filmmaking world, so I've restrained from posting about this whole scandal and others... even if they got over 600 posts on the forums...

    It is perhaps worth noting that as far as I can see, just about everyone in the Russian animation community is against Mikhalkov. Yuriy Norshteyn, Andrey Khrzhanovskiy and Garri Bardin are among the prominent names who left it. Also Sergey Kapkov (who wrote the Encyclopedia of Domestic Animation).

    Of course, the animation community has never mattered much in the politics of Russian cinema. Though I think that artistically, their output is much more interesting than all the live-action blockbusters that the critics like to focus on. :) (and I remember reading somewhere that animation won more international awards for Russia in the 1990s than live-action films)

  2. Thanks for your comment - interesting to hear about how the animation community feels. I think nearly all the big names of the film community (at least when speaking of high quality films) are up in arms at Mikhalkov's authoritarianism, as are the majority of the Moscovite film community. Even Mikhalkov's step-brother Andrey Konchalovsky gave a very critical view of Mikhalkov's reign at the Filmmakers Union in his interview this weekend with Ksenia Larina. But I agree politics is not one of the pleasanter subjects to write about(it just seems to have such a large influence of where the film world seems to be going, especially when considering the likely consequences of the new methods of state funding to a mere handful of production companies).

    I am looking forward to reading your blog on animation - it is not an area I know that much about (outside of the names like Norstein, Khrzhanovsky and Bardin etc and seeing the odd retrospective of Khitruk films). I was hoping to read Macfadyen's account someday to get an overall perspective.

    Moscow has a nice multi-media exhibition this month on Norstein's 'Tale of Tales'. I remember Norstein at the time of the campaign to save the Cinema Museum - he was the first director to involve himself in the campaign. A wonderful man.

  3. There's a nice LJ community devoted to Norshteyn that's a good source for news about what he's up to:

    A major reason for my decision to host my blog on LiveJournal is that that's where very many directors in the Russian animation community are. Even though Blogspot is much more popular in the English-speaking world.

    I am reading MacFadyen's book right now and taking careful notes. :) And often, critiques. The amount of material that he read to prepare is truly impressive - at the same time, I feel that he could have benefited by watching more of the films and talking directly to the surviving directors, who I'm sure would've been glad to cooperate. I think he makes hypotheses about what was intended that could have been answered by asking directly...

    The best way to gain an understanding of Russian animated films, I think, is straightforward: watch a lot of them. Start with the ones that you like, and follow from there. Reading critical articles and books is great, but it's a step removed from the source.

    There are several nice websites that make this easy. One is

    A very nice online version of a book that covers the most important directors can be read here:
    (no list can be perfect, but the list that book has is very good)

    You can type a director's name into the "mults" site and see what films by them are available.

    The breadth of what's available is very wide. Of course you have the bright and populist series like "Nu, Pogodi!" and Cherkasskiy's "Treasure Island", or Tatarskiy's "Pilot Brothers":

    On the other side, there are ancient tragic hymns such as Galina Barinova's "When the Sand Will Rise":

    You also have poetry in animation, with one of the best examples being Yelena Petkevich's "Forest Tales":

    Musicals, of course, such as Samsonov's "Very Blue Beard":

    You also have some insane adult-oriented stuff that got censored upon release, such as Yelena Gavrilko's 2006 30-minute wordless film "The Sword" (but thankfully, the original version got posted online):

    That is only scratching the surface. For more, one can visit the Animatsiya Wiki. ;)

  4. Thanks - these are some really wonderful resources, I am looking forward to watching a lot of these films.

  5. I'd also like to point you to this appearance by Yuriy Norshteyn on television recently:

    Brutal, I'd say... and the people that he was criticizing were watching from the audience...

    The whole thing can be seen here:

  6. Thanks- I'd heard about the programme but didn't manage to watch it- so thanks for the link. Loved the bit about not knowing how to address Mikhalkov - your Highness, Count - and the demolition of Bondarchuk was marvellous. Superb. On Saturday night they were showing the fragments of his 'Shinel' on the wall of the Gallery where the exhibition dedicated to his 'Skazka Skazok' is taking place. Yuri Borisovich was there in person.

    Today there is a new article in the Moscow Times on Mikhalkov's film in Cannes. The link is here:

    Found this part rather amusing:

    Newspapers also reported that the reaction of many World War II veterans was negative. One reviewer on Afisha magazine’s web site wrote of how his grandmother, a pilot in the war, reacted during the film at a scene involving pilots.

    “She is 88, a very cultured and intellectual woman, and she shouted out loud ‘What Sh**!’ The whole cinema — about 10 people — applauded,” the reviewer wrote.