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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Other Events at Kinotavr 2013: (Retrospectives, Special Screenings and Master Classes)

Stop Potapov.

The amount of events outside the main competition at the Kinotavr Film Festival don’t match those of Moscow’s film Festival but there was nonetheless the odd surprise in store for the viewer. In terms of retrospectives one can only speak of one significant one – this being the retrospective dedicated to Soviet era war films curated by Sergei Lavrentiev. The choices are of a number of genuine classics by masters of Soviet cinema from Tarkovsky to German and not ignoring Bondarchuk seniors lesser but still powerful film Судьба Человека (The fate of a man). With limited time to get to many of these films, I have no regrets in choosing the surprisingly surreal film Восточный Коридор (The Eastern Passage) as the one film which it would have been a crime to miss in this retrospective. Valentin Vinogradov was a Soviet director who, in spite of having numerous obstacles put in his way, was more of a believer in the Soviet system than a dissident. This film is, arguably, his masterpiece and one of the freshest discoveries to have been made in recent years. I also had no regrets in choosing to rewatch Vadim Abdrashitov’s Остановите Потапова (Stop Potapov). A diploma film which decades later seems fresh and brings forth a certain melancholy nostalgia at how certain films now are no longer possible. Based on a story by Gorin, the film is a lyrical portrait of the ‘useless man’. Potapov, reminiscent of Otar Ioselliani’s protagonist in There Lived a Thrush, becomes through Abdrashitov’s masterful direction, suffused with a kind of conformist spirit which it is hard to portray with such lightness of touch.

Two leading film historians Evgeny Margolit and Marianna Kireeva held a class on the origins popular hits and heroes of Soviet cinema. In fact through the rather insistent interventions of one member of the audience it was turned into a discussion of modern Russian cinema. However, both Margolit and Kireeva accented how the truly popular hits of cinema arose spontaneously and without any directives. All the Soviet examples Chapaev, the Maxim character of Kozintsev and Trauberg’s trilogy and the protagonists of Donskoy’s Радуга  (Rainbow) arose in spite of and not because of directions from above. An extreme example of this was Nikolai Ekk’s Путевка к жизни (A Voucher for Life) which was, in terms of its foreign audience the greatest hit in Soviet film history (as well as a national hit). And yet this was a film that was strongly resisted by the film hierarchy of its time. Margolit and Kireeva went on to mention the severe criticism that films from the studio Mezhrabpom-Rus’ faced throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s. Yet it was this studio that produced the truly popular cinema of its time including that of Protazanov. There were some fascinating moments and Margolit’s drawing links to the influence of Fantomas even to such a film as Mikhail Romm’s Ленин в Октябре (Lenin in October) is the kind of suggestive discovery that one comes to expect from one of Russia’s greatest film scholars. Another interesting point that emerged during the discussion was how Danelia’s Афония (Afoniya) was the victor of a screen writing competition about the working class. 

Evgeny Margolit.

The question that arose in the course of the lecture about Balabanov’s film Брат (Brother) led to Margolit suggesting that there was a thread that led from earlier Soviet characters through to Daniel Bagrov. So that Chapaev, Voland, Bender, Detochkin and Bagrov are part of one and the same archetype. Whether this thread has been broken and whether a repeat of Balabanov’s feat will be repeated was discussed. For Margolit and Kireeva Balabanov’s film was produced because of a number of circumstances all came together. It was the last period in which these circumstances have favoured such a possibility. Margolit sees some continuity in Detochkin’s film Деточки and yet there is almost no distribution for this film at all (in spite of it being a popular rather than art house film). Interestingly both Margolit and Kireeva were among the few scholars and critics at the time to acknowledge the power and significance of Balabanov’s film for Russian cinema. Balabanov’s film was at the receiving end of just the same hostile criticism that the other Soviet films that they mentioned above.
Other films mentioned by Margolit of the past decade were Abdrashitov’s last film Магнитные Буры (Magentic Storms), Melikian’s Русалка ( Mermaid) and some of Andrei Gryazev’s early documentary films. Another neglected name was Dmitry Svetozarov. Much of the prepared lecture had to be abandoned by the rather insistent intent of one member of the audience to bring contemporary issues into the forefront (whereas what had been prepared was a more historical look at popular Soviet cinema). Nonetheless in spite of this, Margolit and Kireeva managed to produce a wealth of fascinating observations to their talk.

On the Friday of the festival a large round table on ‘How to Help Russian Cinema?’ was held, chaired by Russia’s film critic Andrey Plakhov. Many leading lights of the Russian film industry were present from many different areas of operations. Much of the discussion was about the complex issue of state support. Is it necessary and how to use it (without being used by the state). Anton Dolin, a film critic, made a provocative suggestion of refusing all state support and trying to get the industry to swim by itself. Most speakers seemed to feel that this was impossible although Victor Matizen argued that the dependence on government funding forced the film industry to act in a schizophrenic way. The film director Khotinenko argued for his idea of having a Year of the Debut- only in this way could the film industry encourage new blood into the industry. Vitaly Mansky talked of the absurdity of the state support in documentary film where nearly all the funds go to finance films that nobody ever gets to see (and which are very badly produced). Those documentaries which do have success are only ever extremely rarely given any state funding. Another point was made as to how Russian film shouldn’t be compared to the American film industry with which it has nothing in common but rather to the Brazilian film industry. The quantity of viewers and the number of films made are somewhat similar. Vyacheslav Smyrov spoke about how there was not one model of cinema and that the Soviet model was in a way a more open model than the present model because as well as a state component it also had a social component to it. And the general dialogue between cinema and society that was present in the Soviet times has been lost. Here he mentioned Margolit’s and Kireeva’s lecture and how some of the leading films of the late Soviet period were produced through script writing competitions. As well as Danelia’s film mentioned above, the Oscar winner Москва слезам не верит (Moscow doesn’t believe in tears) was also produced this way. Some suggestions were made by Joel Shapron and Nancy Condee as to how things were done in France (how the state supports the whole variety of film) and America (the importance of film in education and the university film clubs and discussion around film as part of a university education). Rodniansky emphasised how Russian cinema is orientated only towards its own market and not any others. In  fact, as Andrey Plakhov mentioned in his introduction there have been no international hits since Zviagintsev’s Елена (Elena) or Sokurov’s Фауст (Faust). Interestingly an earlier talk on international co-productions was reported to have been one of the least attended sessions of this festival and the figures of actual co-productions are exceedingly depressing.

All in all the round table made for some depressing listening. Whether this gloomy picture reflects reality or a certain tendency to look more on the dark side of things is a question to be considered. Nonetheless, one can also hear these statements in many other countries from Italy to the UK and, perhaps, the gloom surrounding cinema’s future is not merely a Russian issue. Equally gloomy was a round table discussion on cinema on television which came to the conclusion that no quality cinema was ever likely to reach large audiences in contemporary circumstances.

Gennadi Sidorov

One of the special screenings was devoted to the last film made by Gennadi Sidorov (but, alas, he was unable to edit the film before his untimely death). An adaptation of M. Ageev’s (a pseudonym of philologist and translator Mark Levi) cult underground émigré classic Роман с Кокаином (Novel with Cocaine), it transferred the story to the Moscow of the present time. Uneven but atmospheric this film curiosity nevertheless demonstrates what a lost talent Sidorov could have been for Russian cinema. In his lifetime Sidorov played many other roles in film other than director of movies but on the basis of this film if he had concentrated his talents on filming more, recent Russian cinema would have been all the richer for it. 

A Novel about Cocaine

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