Comments from the curators of the National competition

The Post-Soviet ‘No-One’s-Rose’

The National Competition of Message to Man is traditionally open to all genres (apart from classical documentary dramas, this year’s programme also includes documentary comedies and experimental essay films). It is also open to all styles and film schools – from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography to Marina Razbezhkina’s School of Documentary Film and Theatre – and to all ages: debut works compete here on a level playing field with films by recognised masters. In the role of the latter, we see Olga Privolnova taking part in the competition with the film It’s Not Going to Hurt and Alexei Fyodorchenko with his documentary magnum opus Cinema of the Era of Change. Yet here “master” is not simply an epithet conveying status: works by their students have also been included in the programme: After the Tide by Anna Zalevskaya, who studied under Privolnova on the Yunost campus at the Zerkalo festival, and Standup Is Pain by Sabrina Karabayeva, whose film was shot at Alexei Fyodorchenko’s February 29 studio. There was nothing intentional about this, it’s just the way things turned out.

Naturally, the number of female directors (11 to 5) catches the eye, but, unlike non-fiction film, which is tied to the commercial industry and relatively big money, and where it is truly hard for women to make a breakthrough (the more expensive the project, the greater the probability that the director is a man), in Russian documentary film, where there is almost no financing available, the “women’s revolution” took place quite a long time ago. For that reason, it seems of little interest to us to embark on a discussion of the female gaze (nonetheless, the majority of films are to one extent or another engaged with it), but to look at the intersecting lines, the diverging paths of plot and theme, to make the viewer’s journey through the National Competition programme more engaging.

All the same, we shall begin with the “female gaze”. Liza Snagovskaya’s Dying Like Flies and Sofia Kulakova’s Master of the Pond are devoted to the shimmering figure of the father, with whom dialogue is essentially impossible. Olga Korsun’s Blue Rose also works with a post-Soviet narrative – with archive photographs of the director, taken by her grandfather in the paradise that was their heavenly dacha plot. This film journey begins in the garden but ends with the dream becoming a commodity.

This year many authors ponder this transition, the transformation of a dream into a commodity, attempting to visually contemplate the transfiguration of the idea of universal welfare and the garden city into the capitalist realism of a consumer society. Perhaps it is precisely this that explains the close attention paid by directors to places dislocated from reality, dislocated characters or even spaces – from the town of Bardak on the Barents Sea (Froth) to the autistic heroines of Agniya Galdanova and Sabrina Karabayeva, from the universe of lost children in Olga Privolnova’s It’s Not Going to Hurt to the lonely voices of the old men in Tatyana Chistova’s Bless You! The directors seek to examine the places (non-places) of these dislocations, to restore the link between time and space, to map reality anew, suggesting new languages for its description. The visual works devoted to this restoration establish a rhythm between the visionary poem of Ilya Povolotsky and Evgeny Rodin’s Froth and Alexei Fyodorchenko’s documentary comedy Cinema of the Era of Changes.

Dream adventures are another topical thread running through the competition. A dream can be anything at all – from the desire of Petersburg hipsters to write a book about Kira Muratova (After the Tide) to the Luddite travels of a family of voluntary social amputees to the Altai (One Step Forward, One Step Back), from the purchase of a fur suit (Secondary World) to teaching geography in a school outside Moscow (Hey, Teachers), from a Bedouin girl’s desire to become a woman doctor (Zakura) to the desire to move to another city, swapping families and sexual orientation (Restless Nastya). The heroes of the competition programme are united by an unquenchable thirst for another life, their quest for a conceptual hierarchy, a role that can be played either by service in the National Guard (The Golden Buttons) or by a lightsaber battle (Secondary World).

The dislocated joint of reality, search for the vertical, the link of place to time , the impossibility of talk with father.
The film-wall (Bless you!) will serve as the coda of the competition programme.
Post-Soviet flowers, pinched by contemporaneity.
Caught in the camera – their quiet voices.

Evgenia Marchenko
Konstantin Shavlovsky,
competition curators