In the Mirror of the Document

in 14th Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival

by Siranush Galstyan

The jury and audience were impressed by the quality of the documentaries screened in the festival “KINOTAVR”. It is a tradition to screen some of the documentaries that were shot during the year in different parts of Russia, a vast country. In general these works attempt to capture the incomprehensible and sometimes unbearable life of amazing people with its complicated contradictions. Everyone of them has his unique story which is ageless. These stories are, however, never fully told. In most of cases it is the reality of the deprived lives the people lead (“Gorlanova or a House With all Discomforts” by Alexey Romanov, “Broadway.Black Sea” by Vitaly Mansky, “Vacation in November” by Pavel Madvedev). In spite of it people keep their human appearance and glimmer of hope.

One of the most significant documentaries was about the remarkable Russian actor Georgy Zhzhonov by Sergei Miroshnichenko. When the ligths came on after the screening of the film, ‘Georgy Zhzhonov.Russian Cross’ the audience showered Zhzhonov with applause. The documentary is put accross on the screen with his own life and creative work. Zhzhonov sometimes has played people whose fate reminds us of his own. He was falsely charged at Stalin’s age. He experienced a hard childhood, worked in cinema, was arrested and inprisoned. Unfortunatelly the history of his life was typical for that time. And Zhzhonov’s suffering is the Russian cross. This documentary is based on his desire to take a trip into the prison in Peterburg where he has wasted 18 years of his youth. In every way he wants to find that cell… but almost everything has changed there. He goes to each cell with the jailers in search of that place but without any result. He looks at nowhere with authenticity heightened by silence for half a minute and his gaze reveals to us the depth of his sorrow. Suddenly he comes to himself and asks: “Who are we waiting for?” The voice answers: “For you”. Then they continue their unusual trip…

“Sending hello” by Svetlana Bychenko is a documentary-animation. This is a story of irrepressible postman, a real hero who travels within the time of the Past (Russia in the1900’s). He delivers real old letters and noone can stop him. The area of his comic travels are real photos and the film is loaded with images from the time: people, horses, carriages etc. Almost all letters are beginning with the words: “Sending hello”. The author found an original form with sense of humour, and manages to really absorb and even retrieve his ancestor’s history.

“A simple working guy” by Victor Nevezhin is a film-portrait of a man who has managed to be close to well-known artists. He tells about Soviet movie stars, film-makers, shows their photos… “Clean Thursday” by Alexander Rastorguev is a documentary without any words. According to Russian beliefs the Clean Thursday is a day of washing, repentance and forgiveness of all sins. But it is a documentary about ordinary soldier’s bath in Chechnya and almost for each one of them this bath is the last one… This film entrhalled audiences with its theme and cinematic values.

Anyway the documentaries which were screened in the festival in comparison with Russian features willynilly lead to the idea that reality is so saturated with drama that it gives infinite material

to documentarists. It seems that sometimes life forces out the fiction. So, the authors of documentaries by the means of camera become co-authors together with reality, creating an objective document of a time within which they are living and at the same time showing this time through their own vision. In this way people’s portraits, destinies, tragedies draw up a mosaic of life which conveys the collective portrait of the country.