Issue 45 (2014)

Ol'ga Kaptur: The Land of Good Kids (Strana khoroshikh detochek, 2014)

reviewed by Erin Alpert© 2014

strana khoroshikh detochekDirector Ol'ga Kaptur’s debut feature film The Land of Good Kids is a magical New Year Eve’s adventure film for children. Kaptur graduated from VGIK in 2011, the same year that her short film Reaching Out to Mama (Dotianut’sia do mamy, 2011) was awarded an honorable mention for “The Memory of Childhood” in the short-film competition at the annual Kinotavr film festival.

In an attempt to find production partners, the idea for the film The Land of Good Kids was originally presented by producers Natal'ia Mokritskaia, Ul'iana Savel'eva, and Mila Rozanova in the pitching competition during that same 2011 Kinotavr film festival, but was proposed with Oksana Bychkova (who directed Piter FM, 2005) as the director. The producers describe their project as:

[A] fairy tale for children and their parents. We are guided by that framework of an audience which has guaranteed attendance and box office for such foreign projects as Shrek and Alice in Wonderland, or Harry Potter.
We have no illusions and we do not reckon that domestic films can compete with Hollywood in terms of special effects. However, we are convinced that today’s spectator is interested sufficiently in domestic cinema for the whole family, narrated in an accessible and interesting language to the Russian viewer and shot in a Russian environment. An example for this is the box office achieved by the film Three Knights and the Tsarina of Shamakhan.
We consider the keystone for the success of our project to be an original and easily memorisable story which will fascinate both children and adults, and a well-chosen creative team. Our aim is to return domestically produced family films to the screens, films which were in demand during the Soviet era, but completely disappeared after perestroika. Now that the segment of the family audience has re-emerged in our society—and therefore in cinemas, the topicality of the Russian family film is higher than ever. (Pitching, 26)

strana khoroshikh detochekAlthough the film did not win the pitching competition, and the director and some of the plot details were changed from the original proposal, the film was eventually funded with a budget of $3.5 million dollars for production and another $1.5 million for marketing, a significant increase over the proposed budget of $2.5 million in the original pitch. The idea that this film could compete with international children’s cinema was appealing to sponsors, particularly those who were interested in patriotism and with Russia’s international reputation. It was produced by the film company Novye Liudi in coproduction with Jomami Film Production, supported by Glavkino, which produced the recent box office success Stalingrad (2013). The Land of Good Kids received financial support from the Ministry of Culture; the National Program “In the Circle of Family,” whose mission is the creation of a state ideology that supports the revival of the family and raising children in the spirit of patriotism and love of the motherland; and Fond Kino, the Federal Fund of Social and Economic Support of National Cinema, which aims to support the national film industry and improve the quality and competitiveness of domestic films to help them compete with international titles. The film was also sponsored by the companies Rostec, whose mission is “the furtherance [sic] of state policy for industrial development and modernization,” and Rosneft, an oil company majority owned by the Russian government.

strana khoroshikh detochekIn their attempt to create a story that would appeal to audiences as family films did during the Soviet Union, The Land of Good Kids returns to an instantly recognizable Soviet model: the New Year film. The Land of Good Kids tells the story of Sasha, a young girl who is kind, but not always the most well-behaved. After Sasha nearly burns down the apartment on New Year’s Eve, her family wishes for a “good girl” to appear in the new year. Much to their surprise, the doorbell rings and they are met by a courteous, well-kempt young girl, who sings to them, gives them all gifts, and replaces Sasha. Meanwhile, Sasha is taken by the evil Polpred (a contraction of “polnomochnyi predstavitel’”, or “authorized representative”) to the Land of the Good Kids. To Sasha’s dismay, the land is populated by children brainwashed to forget their families and to only focus on doing that which is “good”: cleaning, eating healthy food, exercising, etc. Unable to escape on her own, Sasha is eventually rescued by her dog and cat, who set free the good queen, imprisoned by Polpred, and restore the memories and personalities of all the children in the land.

strana khoroshikh detochekThe Land of the Good Kids fulfills all of the basic requirements for a New Year Film, as described by Alyssa DeBlasio in her article “The New-Year film as a Genre of Post-War Russian Cinema”: “(1) the on-screen representation of the New Year; (2) release and screening dates that correspond with the calendar New Year; (3) the presence of threshold and time imagery; (4) fairy-tale motifs and fantasy space; (5) a preference for the small screen over the big screen; and (6) an explicit privileging of private space over public space” (DeBlasio 43-44). The film was released in theaters on 19 December 2013, and was available on DVD on 30 December, just in time for viewing at home on the holiday. The fantastic, and even dystopian, space of the Land of the Good Kids is populated by magicians, talking dogs and cats, and houses and other inanimate objects with figurative and literal eyes and ears.

strana khoroshikh detochek The most interesting element of the New-Year Film that The Land of the Good Kids draws on is the imagery of time. At the very beginning of the film, Sasha’s father gives her an alarm clock to help her keep track of when Ded Moroz will finally arrive. The hands on the clock begin to twitch, eventually breaking the face of the clock. Clocks and watches appear constantly throughout the film. PolPred absorbs clock hands into his skin. Sasha’s brainwashed replacement gives Sasha’s father an alarm clock. The central space of the Land of the Good Kids is a giant clock tower where the brainwashing of newly arrived children occurs. The terrifying guards of the land are literally “chasovye”—made up of the internal parts of clocks and with the ability to reshape those parts into any needed form.

strana khoroshikh detochekThe film, while met with some praise as a children’s film, was ultimately unsuccessful in its goal at becoming a box office hit on par with foreign films such as Shrek and Harry Potter¸ the domestic film Three Knights and the Princess of Shamakhan, directed by Sergei Glezin (Tri bogatyria i Shamakhanskaia tsaritsa, 2010)or even with scriptwriter Anna Starobinets’s first film The Book of Masters (Kniga masterov, 2009), directed by Vadim Sokolovskii. The Book of Masters is Disney’s first Russian film and is based on Russian fairy tales. While Three Knights earned approximately $19,000,000 at the box office and was seen by 3.34 million viewers, and Book of Masters brought in approximately $11,000,000 with 2.24 million viewers, The Land of the Good Kids was a flop, earning only approximately $111,000 with 18.2 thousand viewers.


Erin Alpert
University of Pittsburgh

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Works Cited

DeBlasio, Alyssa. “The New-Year Film as a Genre of Post-War Russian Cinema.” Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 2:1 (2008): 43-61.

“Pitching: 22 Kinotavr.” Kinotavr (2011).

 


The Land of Good Kids, Russia, 2013
Color, 78 minutes
Director: Ol'ga Kaptur
Screenplay: Anna Starobinets
Cinematography: Andrei Naidenov
Composer: Aleksandr Manotskov
General Producer: Natal'ia Mokritskaia
Cast: Kira Fleisher, Viacheslav Manucharov, Irina Pegova, Timofei Tribuntsev, Natal'ia Selezneva, Vladimir Grammatikov, Andrei Kaikov, Dmitrii Nazarov
Production: Novye Liudi

Ol'ga Kaptur: The Land of Good Kids (Strana khoroshikh detochek, 2014)

reviewed by Erin Alpert© 2014

Updated: 03 Jul 14