KinoKultura: Issue 40 (2013)

Belye Stolby 2013, in color and 3D

By Birgit Beumers (IAS/CEU Budapest)

This year’s festival at Belye Stolby ran, as usual, in the first week of February, but unusually without the presence of Vladimir Dmitriev, who had to be absent for health reasons, but had masterminded the event which he conceived many years ago.

zimniaia skazkaGosfilmofond continues with the restoration of color films made during the 1930s and 1940s on bi-pack film. The work of Vladimir Kotovskii, who does the scanning of the originals, and Nikolai Mayorov, who digitally re-masters the frames, is truly painstaking, but also breathtaking. In the past two years they have already restored a number of cartoons, largely puppet animation from the 1930s made under the artistic direction of Aleksandr Ptushko, and thus have returned to film history an important segment of technical experiments in Soviet cinema of the time. This year, they showed Winter Tale (Zimniaia skazka, 1945), the last film made in the in three-color system invented by Pavel Mershin, which was made by Ivan Ivanov-Vano and set to the music of Petr Tchaikovsky, creating a film about Christmas in the animal world. Another restored color film was Sweet Pie (Sladkii pirog, 1937), a drawn animation piece created by Dmitrii Babichenko, also set in the animal world. The animals prepare for a festivity and an impostor tries to pose as the baker of the best pie. Much more in an experimental vein is The Carnival of Colors (Karnaval tsevtov, 1935), a film created by Nikolai Ekk that shows everyday life of the 1930s—in color, and that also offers abstract graphic experiments with the new technology.

solnechny kraiIn collaboration with NIKFI, the Scientific Institute for Photography and Film, the archive also restored some more 3D films, following a project begun last year. First, there was The Magic Lake (Volshebnoe ozero, 1979), the only 3D puppet animation made at Mosfilm by Ivanov-Vano, which was first shown at Encounters Festival in Bristol in September 2012, where a special program on Soviet color and 3D restoration was presented. Moreover, the Belye Stolby festival screened a series of digitized 3D films that present Olympic sports and the city of Sochi, probably in preparation for cultural programs in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014. These included Karandash on Ice (Karandash na l’du, 1948) by Vladimir Nemoliaev, showing a sports competition involving a lot of slapstick with the clown Karandash. The Sunny Region (Solnechnyi krai, 1948) and Hello, Sochi (Zdravstvui, Sochi, 1978) about the city of Sochi revealed the Black Sea resort in its past embodiments, as a trendy spa of the post-war era, and vying with western beaches in the 1970s. Likewise, The Masters of Sport (Mastera sporta, 1953) shows some Olympic champions after their return from Helsinki, where the USSR had for the first time participated in the games in 1952. Moreover, the film Crystals (Kristally, 1948)—the first 3D popular science film with graphic animation— was digitized, even if the actual film was somewhat disappointing in its scarce use of animation that remained restricted to some elementary movements.

masteraIn the animation section, the archive celebrated the 90th anniversary of Disney with some Disney films from the 1930s that had been submitted for the Moscow International Film Festival in 1935 and subsequently been in Soviet distribution.

Petr Bagrov presented a curious program, showing fragments of incomplete and lost films of the 1920s, piecing together what they may have looked like through advertising trailers.

volshebnoe ozeroThe “In Memoriam” section commemorated, as is custom, those actors and directors who passed away in the last year by showing fragments or films in which they appeared. Thus the festival marked the centenaries of Marika Röck, Jean Marais, Era Savel’eva, Burt Lancaster, and Vivien Leigh. The program dedicated to Sergei Mikhalkov also included a selection of “Fuse” (Fitil’) programs, which he had masterminded since the 1950s. To commemorate animation master Fedor Khitruk, the film Island (Ostrov, 1973) was shown. The passing of Dzhemma Firsova, Bogdan Stupka, Kaneto Sindo, and Tonino Guerra was also remembered through films. Marking the 70th anniversary of the war year 1943, the festival continued its demonstration of chronicles form that given year.  

“Belye Stolby” also presented the 100th issue of the scholarly journal Kinovedcheskie zapiski, founded by the late Aleksandr Troshin and continued by his widow, Nina Dymshits, who now handed responsibility to Naum Kleiman for future issues.

mapA highlight of the festival was the screening of three films that had been considered lost, and that have recently been identified in the National Film Archive in Prague by Nikolai Izvolov and Sergei Kapterev. These were two cartoons, Mikhail Tsekhanovskii’s Gopak (aka Plias, 1932) and The Across Street (Ulitsa poperek, 1931) by Lev Atamanov and Vladimir Suteev. And the ethnographic documentary, or kulturfilm, by Vladimir Erofeev that had been considered lost: Heart of Asia (Serdtse Azii, 1929), or Afghanistan. The copy came to the Prague archive through German distribution by Wetebfilm, and thus has German-language intertitles. The film begins with a map that shows the crossing of the Amu-Darya, which forms the border to the USSR. This is followed by images of a barge being unloaded, signaling the boat journey to the Afghan side, and then on to Kabul across the Hindukush. The journey is continued on horseback, then by car. The map is once again brought out to show the destinations of the journey: Termez, Mazari Sharif, Baglan, Kabul, Jalal, Ghazni, Kandahar, Herat. Cameraman Beliaev captures the Palace of the Afghan Emir at Paghman, the residence of Aman-Ullah khan near Kabul, displaying fountains and boasting a western lifestyle. The People’s Representatives (deputies) wear European suits, and nomads do not sport their traditional dress (highlighting the modernization of the country), wearing suits instead while still squatting on the ground. The Khan’s wife, queen Soraya, has her face covered with some transparent scarf but wears a western-style suit and hat. The Indian Sikhs wear turbans. Soldiers march, and some national dances are performed. The khan’s family and his brother are shown, as well as international officials: the Soviet envoi and representatives of British India are in presence. The film crew leaves the city for the valleys of the Hindukush with their settlements, where people work in factories, plough the soil, and grow corn. There are small rivulets on the high lands, where zebus and buffaloes can be found, and the plantation of oranges and dates is tried out, and where cane sugar is grown. The film crew visits the fortress-like city of Ghazno with its market; the archaeological site of Balkha with its findings from Tamerlan’s time; the mountains and the Buddha statue—in a half-relief sculpted into the mountain, it is the largest in the country—in Herart. Finally, in Kabul they visit a school for girls, highlighting the emancipation in the country, which allows the girls to change their chador for a thin muslin veil, as most wear black. At the end of the film stands the construction of the new capital. Like most kulturfilms, Afghanistan too offers not much in terms of documentary structure, but it contains unique footage of life in Afghanistan in the 1920s, a country where—apart from Erofeev—only a few reels were filmed in the early 1920s for Dziga Vertov’s newsreels. Erofeev captures the country during its independence, as Aman-Ullah khan attempted to modernize (speak, westernize) the country, just before the khan’s forced abdication in January 1929. In this sense, the film is a unique document that shows Afghanistan’s everyday life.

It would be wonderful to unearth more treasures that have been thought lost and may be sitting in archives, without credits and titles, thus without a “passport”—and without documents, there is no film… Gosfilmofond fulfils thus its great potential for the development and completion of its amazing collection.

Birgit Beumers
Institute for Advanced Studies, CEU Budapest

Anna Kovalova, a young film critic, for brilliant articles and books on the history of Russian cinema
Viktor Vatolin, for the editions of essays on the history of cinema in Siberia
Birgit Beumers, for the popularization of Soviet and Russian cinema
Sergei Bandurovsky, for a cycle of internet programs called “Legends of Doubles”
Diplomas for the contribution to the development of world cinema and the popularisation of GFF: Nadezhda Dolzhenko, Gerogii Navodnichy  and Saidburhun Sodikov


Birgit Beumers © 2013

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Updated: 13 Apr 13