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Program in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies

Film Series Archives

Spring 2017 Slavic Film Series
Cinema After Battle: Eastern Europe in War

It seems safe to say that the Second World War stands as one of the defining moments of the 20th century. The conflict resulted in untold millions of deaths, wrought widespread destruction across much of the globe, and permeated every aspect of life for those affected. In recent years, however, when dealing with the subject popular culture has tended to focus solely on the action and excitement of the heat of battle, and the heroic sacrifices of individuals. Though this singular focus on the spectacular heroism of battle may play well in modern American box offices, it arguably misses the forest for the trees, essentially eliding most of the practical historical situation, and causing us to lose sight of much of what characterized the myriad experiences of the war, namely the circumstances leading up to it, daily life under occupation, and its far reverberating consequences. This film series will explore the various ways that directors have approached the subject of World War II over the last half-century. To this end, Central- and Eastern-Europe, a space of occupation, collaboration, resistance, and ultimately the Holocaust, offers a microcosm in which we can see all aspects of this phenomenon unfold and play out on the level of the individual. Focusing specifically on the experiences of those living in this area, the films deal with the implications, not only material, but also moral and psychological, of one of the most traumatic collective experiences in modern history.

- Charles Swank

Spring 2016 Slavic Film Series The Ex-centric: Women Directors of the Other Europe

The eye of the camera often focuses on the ‘Other’ to shed light on that which is unfamiliar or unknown. The lens draws into the world of the viewer those elements that are distant or alien. Films, in turn, provide the stories through which these new elements take on familiar form. But what happens when the ‘Other’ takes over the eye of the camera? How do we see the world through the point of view of what usually stands on the periphery?

In this film series we explore what happens when two great ‘Others’ of cinema sit behind the camera lens. Women and the ex-Soviet block. Each film in this series shows us how women film directors from Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Russia tell stories from across the divide of gender and geopolitics. The films in the series show how two generations of women film directors from the ‘other’ Europe have tackled story telling in cinema on the most improbable subject matters by experimenting with traditional filmic forms and narrative canons.

In these films a subversion of the traditional role of the gaze is reflected in the destabilization of any categorization principle, be it genre or form. From the point of view of genre, several of the films deftly navigate the space between the fictional and the real, the biographical and the fantastic. When it comes to form, several of these films opt for experimental montage sequences, striking camera angles and unconventional use of sound, be it dialogue or soundtrack. Yet, one thing unites them. All ten film-directors challenge our convictions about the identity of storytellers and the worlds they are supposed to memorialize. With each film we go one step deeper into the maze that lies between us and the ‘Other’.

- Gabriella Ferrari and Elizaveta Mankovskaya

Spring 2015 Slavic Film Series The Last Heroes: Musicians playing actors

In 1982, Kino’s late leader Viktor Tsoi recorded “The Last Hero”, a song that would quickly become an anthem of Soviet rock and an epithet for Tsoi himself. To the youth, Tsoi represented (and in a way still is) a quasi-mythical figure who described everyday life with a sincerity and straightforwardness absent in official discourse, yet who remained in the domain of what was considered to be “Soviet.” Together with Tsoi, several other musicians became, to greater or lesser extents, iconic personae in the Soviet collective consciousness, operating both inside and outside the state ideology, being Soviet and non-Soviet at the same time, challenging the system from within.

In selecting the films for this series, it was my intention to give a sense of how these “last heroes” were in most cases all-around artists, capable of interpreting their roles without losing credibility as actors or being perceivedas “only musicians” by the public – indeed, without generating any clear hierarchy among the “actors” and “musicians.” While similar experiments in the West primarily resulted in filmic products mainly intended to glorify their stars through an alternative semiotic medium, the pervasiveness of this phenomenon in the Soviet Union – and later in Russia – is undoubtedly one of its most striking characteristics.

From classics of Soviet cinematography like Two Comrades Were Serving (1968), featuring Vladimir Vysotskii, whose music belongs to the long-standing tradition of avtorskaia pesnia (“author song”), to the scandalous 4 (2004) with Sergei Shnurov, former leader of the ska-punk band Leningrad,it was my goal to cover a broad range of genres, in both music and cinema. In fact, in the last two films of the series, featuring Eugene Hutz (Everything Is Illuminated), the Ukrainian-Russian front-man of the New York-based Gypsy-punk ensemble Gogol Bordello, and Anton Adasinskii (Faust), a renowned theater actor who nonetheless started his career as a musician in the Soviet experimental pop band AVIA, I expand the project’s horizon to explore how this tendency persists even in a non-Russian setting, thus posing the question of what it means to be a “hero” today.

- Massimo Balloni

Spring 2014 Mind the Gap Between the Screen and the Page Adaptations of Russian Classics

My first steps in creating this film series were hesitant; my main academic interests are strongly anchored in the 19th-century canon, especially those “loose baggy monsters” – to borrow a comment Henry James once made about Tolstoy’s War and Peace– that at first blush would seem impossible to capture on the silver screen.  As I continued putting together the list, however, I was repeatedly struck by how the various directors presented here (Soviet, Russian, Hungarian, French, American, Japanese) went about their Herculean task.

Sergei Bondarchuk’s spectacularly sprawling 1966 rendition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, for example, spared no expense in its quest to visually recreate the novel’s Napoleonic battlefields, even going so far as to mobilize the Soviet army for some of the battle sequences.  Akira Kurosawa, in his 1951 translation of Dostoevsky’s masterpiece The Idiot, speaks to the universality of Dostoevsky’s characters, whose passions and desperation burn just as brightly in post-War Japan as they did in 19th-century Imperial Russia.  Nikita Mikhalkov’s An Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano (1977), inspired in part by Chekhov’s relatively unknown play Platonov,  gets “even closer to Chekhov than Chekhov” himself, according to a New York Times review.

Each of these films, in addition to capturing a certain spirit of the work or its author, presents a multitude of readings of the source text by the directors, actors, and numerous other individuals who make a film possible.  For those who admire the source texts – those who are able to discern divergences from their beloved plots and characters – the demand that the cinematographic transpositions remain faithful to the original narratives is a constant temptation.  However, it is worth remembering that strict fidelity to an original literary text is not the only virtue one can bestow on a literary adaptation. Cinematographic adaptations of literature provide an interpretation, a way of reading the literary work that helps us gain a new perspective on these beloved classics. It is, perhaps, better to view these exceptional films as an opportunity to reflect on our own assumptions as readers, and to remain aware of the endless possibilities these texts present.

- Victoria Juharyan

Spring 2013 Soviet Sci-Fi: Nostalgia for the Future​

In constructing this film series, it was my intention to draw a broader audience by focusing on one of the most entertaining and innovative genres of Soviet filmmaking. Sci-fi films consistently marked a technical apogee in Soviet cinema – often consonant with official ideology but also capable of reflecting it in a brilliantly “crooked mirror” and even subverting it under the guise of ‘comedy’ or ‘fantasy,’ which, no doubt, is why some of the best Soviet filmmakers turned to it in order to explore questions of ethics, politics, and everyday life.

If I could do anything differently, however, I would have been more minimalistic and focused on a sub-genre within Soviet sci-fi or on a few auteurs in order to grab the attention of a specific audience. The truth is that, just like a bar, a Slavic film series is mostly comprised of its regulars. For example, I received very mixed reactions from audience members after screening a comedy like Gaidai before an existential drama like Tarkovskii and lost some of them for very different reasons along the way. While my series was by no means a failure, it led me to believe that specificity and consistency in tone might be best in any future film series – i.e., just like writing, consideration for your audience.

- David Hock

Fall 2015 Slavic Film Series Kino Curio: Russian and Soviet Speculative Horror

The cabinet of curiosities provides an excellent allegory for the genre of horror. Itself a collection of spectacles – curios selected for their capacity to pull in and enthrall an audience – the cabinet promises revelations, both educational and illicit, and provides a place for an audience to indulge its fascination with the unknown, the fearful, and the grotesque. Horror films fulfill a similar function, allowing us as viewers access into the parts of our psyches which we may otherwise prefer to leave untouched, simultaneously stimulating and repelling us.

The film series is itself organized as a sort of cabinet of curiosities. In search of films which posed fascinating and uncomfortable existential questions, I drew on a range of time periods, spanning nine decades from 1916 to 2006. The selections represent a variety of genres as well, from supernatural horror (ViyThe Queen of Spades) to science fiction (SolarisThe Ugly SwansProfessor Dowell's Testament) to mystical thrillers (AliveThe Savage Hunt of King Stach). These films are unified in their willingness to probe into the sometimes terrifying, sometimes scandalous, always fascinating dark reaches of the human imagination. I have grouped them together under the collective title of speculative horror. I am fascinated by this type of film, which delves and interrogates and relishes above all the dark moments of revelation

Horror lends itself beautifully to both elevated spectacle and popular art and is fearless in embracing its own artistic language. There is in these films no shortage of beautiful vampires or ominous castles, of experiments gone terribly awry, of ironic punishments, haunting fates, or haunted protagonists. I have attempted to represent the spectrum of low- to highbrow possibilities, from the beautifully crafted and richly artistic Master Designer to the explosive and entertaining blockbuster Night Watch to the unrepentantly schlocky The Power of Fear. My hope is that these films will do for their viewers what they have done for me – leave them partly satisfied, partly disturbed, and looking ahead to another visit to the cabinet.

- Lev Nikulin

Fall 2014 Slavic Film Series Screening Childhood: Children in Eurasian Cinema

Filmmakers have always been fascinated with children as objects of cinematic attention. Throughout the history of film, from the early works by Lumière Brothers, such as Watering the Gardenerand Breakfast with Baby (1895), until the most recent projects, such as A Story of Children and Film by Mark Cousins (2013), children have always occupied a very special place on a movie screen. 

Russian, Soviet, and Post-Soviet cinema is no exception to the rule. Having been exposed to this great cinematic tradition as a child myself, I have always wanted to explore different ways in which film envisions and stages childhood on the screen. Working on this film series allowed me to look closer at films depicting children as protagonists (but not necessarily at “children’s films”) by such filmmakers as Herz Frank and Andrei Tarkovsky, Andrei Zvyagintsev and Pavel Chukhrai, et al., from the 1960s until early 2000s. These films have been chosen not only because of the subject, but also because most of them complicate the image of a child and develop innovative cinematic languages to tell a child’s story. These films tell us stories about loss and survival, about strength and beauty, about mourning and the absence of a parent, about friendship and love, about memory and sacrifice, about perception and experience of time. They raise questions about responsibility and understanding, and they show a network of relations, which children enter in their encounter with the world of adults.

- Natalia Klimova

Fall 2013 Slavic Film Series Out of the Iron Closet

 

Fall 2012 Slavic Film Series Celluloid Swans

A ballet is a living, human text, and its language a silent, abstract system of movement. For an art form that has historically been handed down from dancer to dancer, or from “leg to leg” as Russians say, the filming of ballet has been met with both welcoming acceptance and serious skepticism. It is an ongoing challenge to translate an ephemeral three-dimensional art form into a two-dimensional one (though Wim Wender’s 2011 3D dance film “Pina” shows great promise for the future of dance on film).

When coming up with the Fall 2012 Slavic film series “Celluloid Swans,” I was interested in these tensions between ballet as a live, fleeting, centuries-old art and film as a “fixed” and relatively young artistic medium. While filmed ballets tend to pale in comparison to the thrill of live performance, they are nevertheless an extremely useful tool for both dancers (to learn choreography) and scholars (to study dance history).

My own background as a ballet dancer and my current academic interests in dance history came together in the theme for the film series. I attempted to show a variety of genres of what could be considered a “dance film”: from documentaries (Geller’s “Ballets Russes”), to filmed full-length ballet productions (Ratmansky’s “Bolt”), to feature films (Uchitel’s “Giselle’s Mania”). I also tried to strike a balance between films with which a general audience would be familiar, such as Powell’s beloved “The Red Shoes,” and those perhaps less familiar, like Bauer’s bizarre and haunting early silent film “The Dying Swan.” If I could do the film series again, I would probably include fewer documentaries and would try for greater thematic coherence amongst the films.

- Elizabeth H. Stern