KinoKultura: Issue 39 (2013)
Now that mankind has overcome the presumed end of the world on 21 December 2012, the title of this report requires no disambiguation: in a festival year with a number of great Russian films in the international circuit—from Aleksandr Sokurov’s Faust and Vasilii Sigarev’s Living (Zhit’) to Sergei Loznitsa’s In the Fog (V tumane) and Kirill Serebrennikov’s Betrayal (Izmena)—there is an equally promising number of names that are making a new or recurrent appearance in the short film competitions.
Kinotavr. Korotkii metr=Short maître?
Above all, the platform for emerging talents, is “Kinotavr. Shorts.” As Irina Liubarskaia stated in her introduction to the competition program, “the selection of shorts this year has seemed like the longest long-distance run for all my years as curator. For the first time the number of applications has reached almost 300 films.” Indeed, the number of shorts submitted to Kinotavr grows year after year, as does the significance of this event, which is aligned with the major competition and the pitching, thus offering momentum for young talent and talent-spotters. Liubarskaia, with her good hand at selecting, has always put together an excellent selection, which often singles out talented future directors of feature films. This has already happened to Iurii Bykov, who presented here his short The Boss (Nachalnik, 2009); to Dmitrii Povolotskii, whose Pal/Secam (2008) drew enough attention to bestow on him the direction of My Dad, Baryshnikov (Moi papa, Baryshnikov, 2011); and of course to Mikhail Segal’s World of Fixtures (Mir krepezha, 2011), which has now become one of the four stories in his full-length feature Short Stories (Rasskazy, 2012). Moreover, previous participants Nigina Saifullaeva and Ekaterina Telegina, Andrei Pershin and Aleksandr Karavaev have subsequently pitched their projects at Kinotavr. And finally, the jury choice of a state official in charge of government funding (Sergei Lazaruk) and three independent producers (Julia Mishkinene, Elena Glikman, Evgenii Gindilis) shows the commitment Kinotavr has to the young generation of filmmakers. “Kinotavr.Shorts” has become a platform for the discovery of new talent, whilst also lending status to the genre of the short film.
A good starting point is the diploma film by Taisia Igumentseva, Road to… (Doroga na…), which independently—rather than as a film school entry—made it into the Cinéfondation competition in Cannes, where it won the main award. Igumentseva is now in production with a full-length feature film at Aleksei Uchitel’s Rock Film, titled To Cut the Cable (Otdat’ kontsy) and scripted, as was her short film, by Aleksandra Golovina. Road to…is a film about a young man who lives a dull life in a so-called “sleeping district” of an equally anonymous town. He works as a salesman and lives with his granddad. One day a female colleague asks him to go for lunch, which entails sitting in silence in an open field and watching people tobogganing in the snow-covered space. The life with his grandfather is enervating as the old man, who still mourns his long-lost wife, keeps lecturing the young man on a healthy life and a healthy diet. The young man’s only release of the frustration that builds up over his non-independent life and a non-realized relationship comes in the evening, when he dresses up nicely and goes out—not to get drunk, but to shout abuse at the inhabitants of his own and other blocks and waking them up. Occasionally he gets a black eye for his hooliganism. Once day, Lisa comes to visit him at home; however, he is not interested in a physical or sexual relationship with her, but takes her “out:” she gets dressed up in an elegant robe of his late grandmother, and he invites her to join him as they both shout abuse at the sleeping fellow citizens. The film addresses the release of aggression through verbal abuse, the role of verbal violence as a means of communication and of sharing frustration at the inability to create a different, alternative life from the dull and monotonous non-existence that the main characters lead.
Among the Kinotavr shorts was also the debut of a famous actor: last year Dmitrii Diuzhev had found a responsive and cheering audience for his debut film BROTHERhood of Men (Brat-i-Ia, 2011), while this year it was Andrei Merzlikin who presented his first experiment as filmmaker, GQ, scripted by Mikhail Segal.
There were some quite talented student films in the competition, including two VGIK students of Vladimir Khotinenko’s class: Ivan Shakhnazarov showed his Author’s Method (Avtorskii metod) and Igor’ Korotkii presented Fire, Water and Copper Pipes (Ogon’, voda i mednye truby). Shakhnazarov’s film impressed with an original story, scripted by himself, which explores the relationship between a writer and his characters as the latter take the control over the story and dominate the writer’s creative ideas. Korotkii’s film is a parody of the well-known fairy-tale, without any words. It shows a simpleton cutting wood, fetching water, and repairing an antenna, to catch an extraordinary signal in the end. Korotkii’s talent lies in wordless slapstick comedy. Yet the true talent lies clearly in the masters who teach at the Film Institute, especially Khotinenko, but also Aleksei Uchitel’, whose student Igumentseva has already been discussed. Another of his students is Filipp Iur’ev, who presented his diploma film Song of a Mechanical Fish (Pesnia mekhanicheskoi ryby), which tells the story of a journey of an old man to his son. Living in a remote village, a man receives a letter inviting him to his son’s wedding—a son he has never seen. As the letter flies away into the sea, the man begins a journey, and even buys a wedding present: a singing fish. He reaches his destination but fails to make himself known and never actually meets the son. Broaching issues of parental care, the film touches on wider aspects than an isolated incident. Another student of Khotinenko is Il’ia Uchitel’, whose Trumpeter and the Doll (Trubach i kukla) is a fine exploration of the fragile psychology of a lonely man, called Trubach, a trumpeter who cannot play the instrument without annoying his neighbors; so he goes about the place on his bicycle and tries to find a friend: at an agency he is put in touch with a new friend—a toy crocodile.
From a more experienced group of filmmakers came a range of stunning films. Ekaterina Telegina had won the 2009 Kinotavr Shorts competition with Blast (Poryv), and here presented the short The Cat, the Bear and the Fox (Koshka, mishka i lisa), alluding again to a classical fairy-tale. Three girls dress up in costumes of these animals in order to avenge their father who, once upon a time left their mother—yet their plan goes wrong and they have to re-consider their determination. Telegina plays cleverly with the genre of the gangster movie; and she, too, is incidentally a graduate from VGIK, Khotinenko’s workshop.
Mikhail Mestetskii presented in 2011 a funny film about a group of people stuck on a train where their entire lives pass as they wait for movement. His new film, Legs—Atavism (Nogi—atavism) contains an even greater amount of humor, which here turns into a parody of medical science à la Aleksei Fedorchenko and his mockumentaries. Similarly surrealistic is the new film by Anton Bilzho, The Story about Eugenie and Me (Skazanie o nas s Evgeniei), a black-and-white film that resembles in its aesthetics the Petersburg Necrorealists, yet thematically brings into the fantastic story of a woman hunter who shoots a man she then nurtures back to health a surreal dimension, where humans lay eggs and resemble birds. If in his earlier film Unavailable (Nedostupen, 2010) Bilzho had mixed reality and imagination when a young businessman is stuck in a world that is unavailable and fantasizes about the voice that tells him so, then here the filmmaker veers between the reality of different species, drawing parallels between human and animal behavior, thus reducing human life to a lower level. Evgenii Bialo’s film Truth (Pravda) is a fine psychological piece about a girl who realizes that her boyfriend wants to split up, but manages to take control of the situation by getting there first with a decision to part. Zhora Kryzhovnikov’s The Curse (Prokliatie) follows his Happy Purchase (Schastlivaia pokupka, 2010) and is a statically filmed and quite verbal piece that captures the viewer by a stunning performance of the main actor, Timofei Tribuntsev. He plays an actor who has come to a casting session, where the camera plays the role of the casting commission. As he senses he is not going to get the part, he loses his temper, gets angry, begs for a role, and does all the things he is not supposed to do. A fabulous meta-comment on the acting profession!
A festival with an international competition of film schools and their student works would seem like an idea that should have taken root long ago, but mostly Russian film schools organize events such as Saint Anna and Piterkit where their own students present their works and the best film is selected and awarded. Lilya Nemchenko, who is a docent at the Federal Ural University in Yekaterinburg, and Vladimir Makeranets, the head of the Ural branch of the Filmmakers’ Union and of the local House of Cinema, have established an international event, inviting a select and growing number of film schools from Central Europe and beyond to compete both with the big schools of Moscow and Petersburg, and the smaller, lesser known schools in Yekaterinburg, Perm, Cheliabinsk and beyond. Their work is truly pioneering, attracting each year more submissions from film schools and more spectators. The only thing that this second-time visitor and jury member of the competition would wish for is for more funding to be made available to this project that would make it possible to invite more students from the schools. A wish that may come true one day, which would give this excellent event the chance to have the students compare themselves (and not to be compared by jurors) to their peers in other countries.
As it stands, our jury—including as chairman the filmmaker Andrei Zviagintsev, the film scholar Elena Stishova, the animator Dmitrii Geller and the Afghan filmmaker Siddiq Barmak—watched 120 films in three days. Fortunately the films were short, but at the same time this also means to keep 120 plots, titles, actors and directors at your fingertips, or rather in your notebook. The competition screenings represented the works from Hamburg Media School, where students showed a real talent for experimenting with the horror genre; from the National School of Film, Television and Theatre in Lodz, Poland; from FAMU in Prague; from the NFTS, London; from the famed Academy in Baden Württemberg; from the Bezalel Arts Academy in Israel; from the Cinema Film School Minsk and the Minsk Film-school Studio; and from the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Banos, Cuba, a school that impressed both with its fiction and non-fiction programs. Alongside, there were works from the usual suspects: the Russian State Film University, formerly known as the “Film Institute” (VGIK) and the Higher Courses for Directors and Scriptwriters, Moscow; Marina Razbezhkina’s School for documentary film and the Shar Studio School for Animation; the St Petersburg State University of Film and Television (SPbGUKiT), and art colleges of Perm and Cheliabinsk, as well as the Ural State Academy of Architecture and Art. The traditionally strong animation program from SPbGUKiT is seeing a worrying development after the departure of the pedagogues and masters Ivan Maksimov, Konstantin Bronzit and Dmitrii Vysotskii over the chronic lack of equipment at the university, and we can only hope that the university administration will take the necessary measures to improve the facilities and bring back those teachers.
Our menu of 120 films was, fortunately, divided into three courses: animation, documentary and short fiction. Moreover, we had an internal distinction between student and debut films for the purpose of awards.
Russian animation has always been strong, and once again the program confirmed this, both in terms of technique and story-telling. From VGIK there were The Doll (Kukla) by Evgeniia Shlegel, a rare piece of puppet animation about a girl who comes to a big city, looks at the glamorous shops and ends up in the window display. Svetlana Razguliaeva displayed her ever-growing confidence in handling style and design in Girl for a Rabbit (Devochka dlia zaichika). The Shar Studio School presented a whole range of truly excellent films. Anton Dvoyak’s KostIa is a stunning and funny animation about a skeleton that falls apart during a series of adventures in a big city. Anna Kadykova’s Mole at Sea (Krot na more) tells of a mole’s day at the beach as he cannot really make sense of the leisure time activities of humans. Konstantin Brilliantov’s Umba-Umba is a fine story about a group of miners who are buried underground before they re-emerge through a well. The humor of the story is created through the character of a cat that first tries to pinch the miner’s packed luncheon, then sneaks into the mine, and eventually resurfaces through the well. The black-and-white drawings are effectively set to a musical pace and the scene under ground makes use of the white-on-black pattern. Sonia Kendal’s Pishto goes away (Pishto uezzhaet) is a talented piece of animation drawn in pastel colors, which convinces through the simple story: a man leaves his home as he is fed up with the life in the small village that he knows all too well. So he goes to the bus stop and waits… Leonid Shmel’kov’s Hopfrog (Pryt-skok) is a funny exercise in the movement and humorous story-telling as frogs jump up and down…
The category of fiction films included several films shown also at Kinotavr, such as The Cat, the Bear and the Fox and Fire, Water and Copper Pipes from the Film Institute; Bialo’s Truth and Bilzho’s Unavailable from the Higher Courses. An impressive new film from the Higher Courses student Ruslan Magomadov is Home (Dom) about a man who is left behind in the destroyed city of Grozny, where he tries to survive in a basement.
Two films from the Higher School of Journalism were shown: Entertaining Physics (Zanimatel’naia fizika) by Ol’ga Nuzhina, about a man who tries to see for himself whether the experiment of putting a handful of golden needles into glass with water without causing overflow would work, while his wife ruins the experiment that he has been carrying out in order to keep his mind focused as their son is undergoing surgery. One Minute (Odna minuta) by Elena Galianina explores the psychological dilemma of a businessman stuck in a lift: used to have things done for him, he is suddenly on his own and faces his own childhood self through phone link in the lift. Ultimately, he exits the lift into a green field—the world of his childhood or another world? Both films show a preoccupation with situation and character psychology appropriate for students of journalism, but little experience of or experiment with cinematography.
From Kyrgyzstan’s Manas University came Alizhan Nasyrov’s Water (Voda), dealing with a perennial problem for Central Asia: water supply. An old man and an old woman quarrel in the field over the water supply when they discover that it is actually cut off “higher up”—in the hills, by some cooperation with authority.
The most impressive film came from SPbGUKiT: F5 by Timofei Zhalnin, which tells an amazing story that comments most critically on the state of art house cinema in the contemporary world: who needs this fine choreographic performance of “Pygmalion” by two girls who try to make it from the provinces into the big world? They dream of the grand prix, yet while one is willing to compromise in order to get it, the other wants to stick with their artistic principles and risk losing the competition. Who will win? The aesthetic concept or the cheap, commercialized version? This film certainly did win the Grand Prix! The film opens with two girls running along the tracks trying to catch a train; some boys make a pass and try to hold them up—yet the girls overcome the hurdle easily. They make it, but at the end they must catch another train. Their choreographic performance is filmed stunningly and their choreography is noted by the (foreign) jury president. Yet the audience boos… and the curtain falls. Gala and Kat argue on how to proceed; they run along corridors, they disagree for the first time and their relationship is much more than that of two girls leaving the provinces and wanting to “make it.” F5 is the computer key to renew the screen, and this is what they do with their second act, which they change to a viewer-oriented performance. But do they win with their compromise? For a student in filmmaking this film shows an enormous competence in handling story, acting and cinematography.
In the documentary section, the Cuban school impressed with its paced portrayal of a variety of lifestyles and was awarded a prize. From VGIK there were two strong films: Equilibration (Raznovesie) by Maria Ponamareva about an extraordinary old man who weighs people in the city streets on his massive old scales; and People on the Hill (Liudi na kholme) about the life of people after the fires in the peat bogs. The Perm State Institute of Art and Culture showed Elena Seregina’s Yana Bogatyr about the hockey player Yana, a woman of gigantic size. Local color gave the edge to the films Oksya Baba by Nikita Anis’kin from the Russian State Pedagogical Vocational University in Yekaterinburg, a first-year student who had filmed, at the age of 13, a 97-year old woman from a Mordovian village, and who now added some additional footage to complete this film. The memory of life as it passes before Oksya’s eyes is captured by a static camera, while the narrative illustrates her memory through photographs, creating a most impressive document of the Purges. In similar vein, Maria’s Song (Marusina pesnia) by Semen Riabukha from Cheliabinsk State Academy of Culture and Art about a women’s choir in a village mingles documentary footage and newspaper clippings with scenes of these soldiers’ widows in the present day.
Marina Razbezhkina’s school produces generally very strong films, and was here represented with three films: Corpses Can Dance (Mertvetsy mogut tantsevat) by Sergei Gevorkov about a man who is quite creative and inventive, who can fix and make things, but who is out of a job and therefore isolated in society, estranged from the world. The Quiet House (Tikhii dom) by Pavel Samoilov explores the retirement of a couple and their way of adapting to life without work. It would appear something of a concern that the film shows the filmmaker’s parents, and he exploits the natural proximity and insight to mother and father that he would not otherwise have had into the lives of other people. Red (Krasnoe) by Maksim Sukhaguzov looks at the relationship of a young girl and her boyfriend and their attitude to sex. Overall, Razbezhkina’s students show a great talent as filmmakers and a very clear and distinct approach to documentary filmmaking.
Among the debut films, once again Russian animation was clearly strongest: Natalya Chernysheva’s Snowflake (Snezhinka), which garnered an award, follows the falling of snow in Africa, where a black boy receives a snowflake in a letter and imagines what the world would be like if covered in snow. The animation is beautifully handled and the story well paced. Noise (Shum) by Tat’iana and Ol’ga Poliektova is a complex narrative with several layers of metaphorical meaning, creating a sophisticated piece of storytelling that occasionally suffers from slight technical lapses. The tale scrutinizes man in search of his true love, with references to the biblical story of Adam and Eve and issues of temptation that take an almost banal and everyday dimension, which creates a fine humor in this little cartoon.
Looking at the work of Russian film schools and at the short film competition, there is huge creative and artistic potential—if the educational system does not go down the route of administrative reforms that will do away with the most precious cultural heritage we have: that of encouraging individual expression and experiment, and of facilitating education for the most talented, and not for the richest.
Legs-Atavism by Mikhail Mestetskii
Road to... by Taisia Igumentseva (for the filmmaker's courage and non-conformism)
Author’s Method by Ivan Shakhnazarov (for the feeling of style and cinematic culture)
Prize of the Guild of Film Scholars and Critics
Legs-Atavism by Mikhail Mestetskii
Kinoproba Film School Competition (Yekaterinburg, 1-4 December 2012)
F5 by Timofei Zhalnin (SPbGUKiT)
Best Documentary School
International School for Film and Television San Antonio de los Banos, Cuba
Best Student Animation
From Nowhere, Maayan Tzuriel and Jessica Mayo, (Bezalel Art Academy, Israel)
Best Student Short Fiction Film
Frozen Stories, Grzegorz Jaroszuk (Lodz Film School, Poland)
Best Short Fiction Debut
Away, Anna Sarukhanova (Leevandia Entertainment, Moscow)
Best Animation Debut
The Snowflake, Natalya Chernysheva (Pchela Studio, Moscow)
Best Documentary Debut
Paradise by Jan Matuszynski (Munka Studio, Poland)
Birgit Beumers © 2013
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