Reflections of Andrei Tarkovskii: The Zerkalo Festival and Conference

By Jeremy Hicks (Queen Mary, U of London)

The first Zerkalo: Andrei Tarkovskii International Film Festival (6-13 July 2007) and the international academic conference “The Phenomenon of Andrei Tarkovskii in Intellectual and Artistic Culture” (9-10 July 2007) in Ivanovo, outside of Moscow, are now over.

Academic conferences come in all shapes and sizes, but it is strangely rare if not unique even in film studies to find them attached to a film festival. Yet this combination is self-evidently felicitous, as it permits scholars, along with other festival-goers, to discover or reacquaint themselves with hard to obtain works and keep abreast of recent developments in cinema.

The 2007 Andrei Tarkovskii Zerkalo festival provided just such an opportunity through its diverse program of competition and non-competition films. The fourteen films in competition were supposedly selected from all over the world for their relevance to Tarkovskii's own approach. The winner of the Grand Prix was Drama/Mex, directed by Gerardo Naranjo of Mexico, first shown at Cannes in 2006. Although its theme of sex tourism did not display much similarity with Tarkovskii, the film was nevertheless stylistically engaging and demonstratively not a mainstream, commercial film. Two Russian films were also represented: Iurii Pavlov's Headscarves (Platki, 2007) and the late Valerii Ogorodnikov's last film, Fishing Season (Putina, 2007), which was awarded the viewers' prize.

In fact, the festival's commitment to the spirit of Tarkovskii was evident above all in the complete retrospective of Tarkovskii's films (entitled “Tarkovskii Forever”), a program of three films made by his close associates, including Konstantin Lopushanskii's Letters of a Dead Man (Pis'ma mertvogo cheloveka, 1986) and a comprehensive screening of documentaries about Tarkovskii that included Aleksandr Sokurov's Moscow Elegy (Moskovskaia èlegiia, 1987) and Chris Marker's One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich (Une journée de Andrei Arsenevitch, 2000) in a program called “Tarkovskii is with Us.” This program also included excellent rarely seen films such as Evgenii Tsymbal's Stalker's Dreams (Sny Stalkera, 1998) about Aleksandr Kaidanovskii, who played the role of Stalker in the eponymous film.

There were also programs of recent Russian cinema, animation, documentary, and children's films, all of which drew full houses. A curious special president's prize was awarded to one of the films in the New Russian Cinema program: the rather saccharine Vanechka (2007) by Elena Nikolaeva. Nevertheless, it was frankly astounding to see local people who had probably never previously heard of Tarkovskii flocking to his always challenging films.

Tarkovskii's huge standing internationally as an innovative director—synonymous with the concept of difficult, slow, art-house movies—ensured the serious nature of the event, described by the Russian media as a festival of intellectual cinema. It was probably this same atmosphere that attracted the acclaimed Greek director, Theodoros Angelopoulos as chair of the jury.

Yet the scale, ambition, and success of the festival was largely the result of generous funding from the regional government of Ivanovo, keen to capitalize on the fact that Tarkovskii was born and spent most of his youth in the region, in the towns of Zavorazh'e and Iur'evets, where a museum in his wartime home was triumphantly re-opened after an expensive refit entailing the inauguration of a commemorative bell and the planting of apple trees by the festival's stars, including its president, Inna Churikova. The aspiration behind such investment is the regional governor's desire to establish the Ivanovo region as a potential tourist destination. Whether or not it succeeds, the use of this festival and of the museum to enhance the profile of the area will surely increase Tarkovskii's standing. But what kind of Tarkovskii will emerge from this process in Russia?

One possible answer was suggested by the two-day academic conference held as part of the festival: “The Phenomenon of Andrei Tarkovskii in Intellectual and Artistic Culture.” Organized by the director and film historian Evgenii Tsymbal (who worked under Tarkovskii on Stalker), together with the philosopher Viacheslav Okeanskii, the conference succeeded in tapping into the widespread enthusiasm for Tarkovskii displayed by academics from all over Russia and from a wide variety of backgrounds including film, art history, literature, philosophy, music, theology, and “culturology.” There were also a handful of film scholars from beyond Russia's borders: their small number probably reflecting the fact that proceedings were conducted exclusively in Russian. Of the twenty or so papers, those treating Tarkovskii's films in the empirical context of their production or reception and those seeking to relate his work to the broader picture of film history were decidedly in the minority. Likewise, there were no papers using the dominant methodological tools of Western film studies, such as psychoanalysis. In the context of Western film studies, it would seem almost inconceivable to have a conference of this kind and mention neither the long take nor “the gaze.” Here though, the overwhelming tendency of these papers was an attempt to see Tarkovskii in the context of Orthodox Christian theology and the Russian tradition of religious philosophy: Pavel Florenskii and Aleksei Losev, rather than Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan were the guiding spirits. In this kind of approach, the films might be seen as allegorical. Alternatively, themes such as silence, the absence of names, or elements of a dialogue are isolated in a film and then re-contextualized in philosophical terms. After such treatment Tarkovskii becomes not just a filmmaker, but instead a seer imparting an important spiritual message to the Russian people. In this interpretation, these films are not simply beautiful: they belong to that beauty which, according to Dostoevskii, will save the world. The problem is that if Tarkovskii becomes a Russian prophet with a message of redemption solely for Russians, then does he not thereby cease to interest everyone else?

While in my view the response to this question is yes, this reinterpretation and appropriation of Tarkovskii as a patron saint is by no means a fait accompli. Even if such voices are many and loud, in Russia, too, opinion is far from unanimous, and a festival—and especially a conference of this kind—offers an opportunity to keep on debating and contesting the legacy of Tarkovskii: the most fitting of tributes, surely, to any artist. Indeed, the intention is to make this an annual event. Scholars who wish to stress the filmic, rather than philosophical, dimension of Tarkovskii would do well to attend subsequent Russian Tarkovskii conferences, where their contributions might help redress this imbalance.

Jeremy Hicks
Queen Mary, University of London

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Festival Contact Details:

General Office of the Festival Organizers
Slavianskaia poloshchad' d. 2, office 4009
109074, Moscow
Tel/fax: 7-495-784-68-70

Ivanovo Region Cultural Affairs Committee
ul. Velizhskaia, 8
153022 Ivanovo
Tel/fax +7 (4932) 301426


Jeremy Hicks © 2007

Updated: 02 Oct 07