Shaman: Stalin and his era without embellishment
Joseph Stalin, Leader of the Soviet Union (1878-1953)
The 13th Russian Documentary Film Festival opens in New York in virtual format
Like other film festivals of the “covid era”, the Independent Russian Documentary Film Festival in New York (RusDocFilmFest) faced a difficult choice. Cancel the review since 2008 or reformat it online?
The founder and director of RusDocFilmFest Marina Adamovich, editor-in-chief of the literary and publicistic publication Novy Zhurnal, chose to accept the difficult challenge and the festival should not be canceled. As she told the Voice of America, in connection with the pandemic, the festival will be held in the “online cinema” from 19 to 25 October. The festival program includes documentaries filmed over the past two years by filmmakers from Armenia, Bulgaria, Israel, Spain, Kazakhstan, Russia and France. All films are American premieres and have English subtitles. Many films of the program are laureates of international and national film festivals.
Personality against the background of history
A distinctive feature of the festival was the adherence to the genre of documentary biography, “close-ups” of prominent personalities.
The tape “Vertinsky. The Lonely Wanderer “directed by Svetlana Astratsova is a film-reflection on the fate and personality of Alexander Vertinsky and the era of the Silver Age, of which he was the embodiment. The script was based on memories and little-known letters from the artist himself..
&# 171; Vertinsky. Lone Wanderer&# 187;
Film director Kira Muratova, the memory of her, is dedicated to the film “About Kira stealthily” by Irina Vasilyeva. As if against his will, Muratova’s husband, artist and playwright Yevgeny Golubenko, will open for the audience the house where Kira Georgievna lived and where her amazing ideas were born.
“Without a halo. Lyudmila Alekseeva “. This is the name of the film by co-directors Sergei Dogorov and Serik Beiseuov, dedicated to an outstanding human rights activist, co-founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group, who died in 2018. The viewer will be convinced that Lyudmila Mikhailovna was a brilliant, witty storyteller.
The incredible story of the Vorkuta camp theater is told by the Theater Behind Barbed Wire directed by Inna Kokorina. The theater, created in the Gulag from among the prisoners, showed 600 performances and concerts a year during the war.
The last three films were included in a special program in memory of producer Alexander Radov (1940-2020).
A few more paintings, directly or indirectly, relate to the dramatic pages of Soviet history. “Kalyaevskaya, 5” directed by Maria Sorokina reconstructs the half-forgotten fate of the inhabitants of the first Moscow cooperative house, who became victims of repression in the 30s.
The “naive” street artist Vladimir Ovchinnikov created a kind of “memorial to the victims of political repression” in the city of Borovsk, which caused a public scandal. The film “The Borovsk Effect” by screenwriter Boris Minaev and directors Yulia Grebennikova and Polina Zavadskaya is dedicated to the figure of Ovchinnikov and the old Russian city.
The film “Zulmat. Mass Famine in Kazakhstan “directed by Zhanbolat Mamai. As a result of violent Stalinist collectivization, about 4 million people died in Kazakhstan in ten years.
The festival program also includes films “Free Flight” (Spain) directed by Algis Arlauskas, “Kunashir” (France) by Vladimir Kozlov, “Spitak. Thirty Years of Solitude ”(Armenia) by Svetlana Stasenko,“ Awareness of Beauty. Whose Baikal? ” (Russia) Valeria Shevchenko, “The Sweetest” (Bulgaria) by Boris Missirkov and Georgy Bogdanov, “One Hundred Million Views” (Israel) by Itamar Rose.
One of the most notable participants in the festival program will be the new film by Andrey Osipov “Shaman”. At the recent 42nd Moscow International Film Festival, he was shown in the competition program.
&# 171; Shaman&# 187;
“Shaman” is a polemical picture about Stalin, about the era of his reign. The tape, saturated with a little-known chronicle, is built as a voice-over dialogue between the father, who generally justifies Stalin, and the adult son, who considers him a bloody dictator who cannot be forgiven, let alone praise.
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Andrei Osipov, a well-known documentary filmmaker, creator of a series of non-fiction films about the poets of the Silver Age and the recent film “Eastern Front”, based on a German chronicle. The Eastern Front was on the program of the 11th Russian Documentary Film Festival in New York in 2018. Andrey Osipov teaches at VGIK, where he has been conducting a non-fiction film workshop for the second year (together with Tatyana Yurina).
The correspondent of the Russian service “Voice of America” spoke by phone with Andrey Osipov, who is in Moscow..
Oleg Sulkin: Do you show in the film that many people treat Stalin with reverence and admiration? How can this be explained?
Andrey Osipov: If you come to the mausoleum on March 5, you will see that Stalin’s grave is littered with flowers. People know about repression, the Gulag, about innocent victims. And all the same, they carry and carry flowers to the tyrant’s grave. This may seem like an insoluble mystery..
OS: To solve it, you suggested an unusual structure for the film. The dialogue between father and son is, in fact, a furious dispute about Stalin. You have a wonderful, experienced screenwriter – Odelsha Agishev. Which one of you came up with this move?
A.O .: Odelsha Aleksandrovich is much older than me, he is 81 years old, I am 60. He found that time, and he wanted to share his personal feelings about the Stalinist era, about the figure of Stalin. Russian society is divided. Some are for Stalin, others are against. We tried to convey this contradiction in all its drama..
OS: They can’t help but amaze the footage of a little-known newsreel. Where is she from?
A.O .: I have a long-standing love of working with archival chronicles. When I come to the Krasnogorsk archive (Russian State Archive of Film and Photo Documents in Krasnogorsk near Moscow – OS), every time I am in awe that I will see the faces of people who have long gone, faces full of love and worries, worries and hopes. There is a nagging feeling in relation to history. And the desire to dig and dig the chronicle. As an archaeologist looking for shards and enjoying the finds. For a long time I walked around three boxes with thousands of cards with descriptions of newsreels depicting Stalin. Including “cuts”, which for various reasons could not be used, because the censorship checked everything hundreds of times. But they were not thrown away, because, according to strict rules, the film crews had to hand over all the footage to the studio. Thus, invaluable footage that almost no one has seen has been preserved. And I had a desire to share what I saw with the viewer.
OS: Dozens of documentaries about Stalin have been filmed. You relied on someone else’s experience?
A.O .: Editor Marina Eremenko and I watched in Krasnogorsk “cuts” and other not very popular archival materials, children’s, industry news magazines as well. But by definition we have not watched the films of directors of previous generations. When we finished the work, we realized that a kind of triple structure had arisen. To the ideological, worldview, human dialogue – the dispute between father and son, one more layer was added – the chronicle itself, it is the third, also a very eloquent interlocutor. There are many nuances in the chronicle. After all, the official chronicle is one thing, but the private life of people is quite another. I wanted to show an ordinary, simple person against the background of history, I wanted to protect him, somehow justify. Indeed, even in the most terrible Stalinist time, people dreamed of a happy life, rejoiced, laughed. This mood is well conveyed by the footage of the festive parades, the inspired faces of their participants..
When we made films with Agishev about Voloshin, Tsvetaeva, Bely, Bryusov, we already went through this. The images and figures of our heroes often did not coincide with the vision of the audience, especially museum workers. A documentary is not a scientific dissertation. And “Shaman” is our subjective idea of Stalin and his era.
OS: On the question of “cutoffs”. It’s like a parallel story. Here, for example, is a fragment of a chronicle that has not been published, of course, where the leaders of the party and the country stand on the mausoleum. The camera did not escape how the young Kosygin, even in those years, secretly eats, obviously, candy, and hides the candy wrapper somewhere under the podium or in his pocket.
A.O .: I’m glad you noticed this. I tried to knock down the pathos, which, perhaps, is growing towards the finale. I pursued the same goal in the fragment where a worker from an amateur circle performs with the number of “artistic whistles.” Nonsense, nonsense, but the whole life of that time was saturated with this nonsense, and no one perceived it with irony and sarcasm, as we do now.
OS: You hope to convince someone with your film?
A.O .: The Stalinists say: he is a creator. This creation is worthless if it is built on injustice, on fear, on links, on prisons, on millions of victims. But what is happening today? Why is Stalin’s grave buried in flowers? Do these people really have no understanding of what was really going on in the country then? And we wanted to fix this distortion of the perception of reality..
OS: A significant part of the film is devoted to mystical versions explaining Stalin’s rise to power and his, in fact, hypnotic effect on millions of people. You are voicing some strange, dubious and even fantasy hypotheses related to the “dome of protection”, “the witch of Lvov”, “sacred sacrifices.” In general, it turns out that Stalin was associated with evil spirits. It is not for nothing that the film is called “Shaman”. This, of course, is very entertaining, but does it not seem to you that mysticism leads the conversation a little to one side??
A.O .: This question was also asked by the audience after the screening of “Shaman” at the Moscow Film Festival. I’ll try to answer. Hundreds of books have been written and dozens of films have been made on the theme “Stalin is a bloody dictator”. Much has also been written and filmed on the theme “Stalin – the Savior of the Russian Land”, especially recently. If we limited ourselves only to the dispute between father and son, then, no matter how hard we tried, we would repeat what has already been said a thousand times over. Odelsha Agishev was surrounded by books that interpret Stalin as a sorcerer and magician who underwent a secret rite of passage when he was in Siberian exile.
OS: It turns out that you added yellowness to attract the attention of the audience….
A.O .: Someone might say that we are sinking to the level of television programs about the “mysteries of the universe”, about the “little green men.” But we tried to objectively reflect a huge layer of literature and myths about Stalin. This is reality, and it is unwise to close your eyes to it. In addition, we must not forget that cinema was and remains an attraction. Cinema doesn’t have to be boring. And all the elements of the film language should work for this. The masters taught us so.
Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in New York.