Documentary Cinema Better Brings Young Generations Into Reality

in 13rd Perm Flahertiana - International Documentary Film Festival

by Anne Brunswic

The Flahertiana International Documentary Film Festival in Perm is already 13 years old. Its name tells a lot about the circumstances of its birth. “It was under the presidency of Eltsin” recalls the director Pavel Petchenkin. “Can you imagine giving the name of an American director to a Russian film festival? This was only possible during these years when the barriers had fallen.” Why did the Perm-Ekaterinburg based group of friends, filmmakers and producers suggest the name of Robert Flaherty? “Well, because, Nanook was exactly what we wanted to achieve in the frame of documentary cinema: a personal point of view on reality combined with a very good story with powerful characters. We went to the regional minister of culture in Perm and he himself suggested we should name the festival after Flaherty.” And so the Golden Nanook became the top prize of the international competition. Petchenkin, born in 1956, rules the festival since 2006. It’s a very lively festival that lasts a whole week and offers 15 films in the international competition, 20 in the Russian competition and all together more than 80 films. The audience is very large and varied, from retired old ladies to kindergarten kids with their teachers. “On Thursday alone, there were 1000 tickets sold, this is quite unexpected!” remarks Pechenkin. But the festival is part of a much bigger public cultural and social project that works all year round — Permkino, a project aimed at the city, the villages and the large Ural region.

Permkino holds a wide range of activities: a cinematheque that preserves and maintains 12,000 copies of Soviet and foreign classic films (35mm and 16mm); production of documentaries; support of cinema teams shooting in the region; education of young viewers from kindergarten to secondary school; professional and artistic courses for filmmakers; master classes open to the public; training of teachers and professors of all levels in media education, and more.

This global cultural policy largely maintains the Soviet tradition. “In the old days, we had cinemas and other places where you could show films in every single village, every single industrial plant. Cinema was considered by the regime as the major art. In our Perm region, we had 30,000 cine-clubs. Now, in the whole of Russia, you have 25,000 cinemas!”

The film production of Permkino is financed by federal budget. All others activities are subsidised by the regional authority of Perm, a region quite rich with oil, uranium and many industrial compounds.

The most visible part of the compound is cinema Première with 5 well equipped theatres where fiction films and documentaries are screened all year round.

“There is a really big production of documentary films in Russia. The federal government subsidises 500 films a year, with an average of 30,000 Euros per film which here is quite enough for most productions. But you can’t watch them anywhere except a few festivals. TV channels are not interested. Commercial cinemas are not interested. This is unacceptable! I was really determined to find a solution to this absurd situation. I made it a personal issue” insists Petchenkin.

In Perm, cinema Première has documentary films in its program all year round — some come from the festival selection, the international competition and the Russian competition (20 to 30 short and long footage), some were awarded in international festivals, and some are locally produced and show aspects of rural life in the Ural region where a few ethnic minorities fight to keep their traditions alive.

Pavel Petchenkin looks at documentary cinema as a way to raise consciousness. In orphanages and schools, he cooperates not only with psychologists and sociologists. “Our kids don’t believe in fiction anymore. Only documentary cinema can help them cope with the tough problems they are confronted with in their personal and social life. Our challenge is to bring them into reality and documentary cinema is obviously an excellent way to achieve that goal.”

Edited by Yael Shuv