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Russian Film Series Continues

Published: February 15, 2013

The Russian Film Series “Russia Through the Documentary Lens” organized by the CSULB Russian Film Club returns to campus for another semester beginning Thursday, Feb. 21. Admission is free.

The three documentaries all deal with post-Soviet Russia, explained Andrew Jenks, a member of the History Department since 2006. Jenks, along with Dmitri Sidorov from the Geography Department and Harold Schefski in Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures has organized the film series for the past two years as a way to build interest in CSULB’s Russian Studies resources.

“Even if the subject of the documentary occurred before the Soviet collapse, the films that depict them offer a window into contemporary Russia,” he said. “Audiences are invited to witness everything from one of the most bizarre beauty pageants they could ever imagine to anti-Nazi animation.”

The series opens at 7 p.m. on Feb. 21, with “The Lost Colony” screening in AS 384. The 72-minute film directed by Astrid Bussink in 2008 takes place in the tiny sub-tropical region of Abkhazia on the coast of the Black Sea. While Abkhazia is ostensibly a part of the post-Soviet nation of Georgia, it has been a de facto protectorate of Russia since the early 1990s. Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, provides the backdrop for the documentary’s central subject: a famous primate center created in the city in 1927, when Abkhazia was part of the now-defunct Soviet Union.

“Ultimately, however, the documentary is about the tragic fate of Abkhazia during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Jenks. ”What’s at stake here is not the primate research center but the fate of Abkhazia itself. It is as if re-creating the glory that was the primate research center in the old Soviet days would somehow recreate the nation of Abkhazia, which fought a bitter war in the 1990s with the former Soviet republic of Georgia to become independent. The new Abkhazia would be joined, not to Georgia but to Russia, or so many Abkhazians hope. Parts of the documentary are very comical and parts of it are very sad. This documentary offers a fascinating way to discover the history of Abkhazia after the Soviet collapse. The lost colony is not so much the monkeys as the Abkhazians themselves.”

The series continues on Thursday, March 7, at 7 p.m. with the 2007 documentary “Miss Gulag” directed by Maria Yatskova-Ibrahimova. Through the prism of a beauty pageant staged by female inmates of a Siberian prison camp emerges a complex narrative of the lives of the first generation of women to come of age in Post-Soviet Russia. “Miss Gulag” explores the individual destinies of three women: Yulia, Tatiana and Natasha, all bound together by long prison sentences.

The Lost Colony screen grab
A photo from the documentary The Lost Colony

The series concludes on Wednesday, March 20, in the University Theater with an evening of Soviet animation. Jenks has collected standout examples of the Soviet Union’s answer to Pixar and DreamWorks. The program will deal with many aspects of Soviet animation from propaganda to entertainment.

“Watch as Soviet cartoons satirize both American democracy and Nazi tyranny,” he said. “Ranging in length from three to 25 minutes, the animation will address different themes and different ways to illustrate how Soviet animators used humor and images to convey the central messages of Soviet ideology.” Jenks will introduce the first and third films in the series while Schefski will provide background for “Miss Gulag.”

Jenks believes the Russian Film Festival is a wonderful way to connect the campus with the Long Beach community.

“These cutting-edge documentaries represent a renaissance in the genre. We are proud to be able to present the results of that renaissance to the Long Beach community,” said Jenks. “This series testifies to the quality of Russian Studies at CSULB. It demonstrates the kinds of things students and the community have access to. A documentary series of this quality is rarely available at most universities. This series is a hidden gem.”

Jenks encourages campus and community to attend. “Your mind will be bent in ways it hasn’t been bent before,” he said. “Audiences will see things they never imagined. It will open their perspective on aspects of life in the former Soviet Union that they would not have understood before. It will overcome stereotypes. If audiences like to be surprised and enlightened by that surprise, this is the series for them.”

–Richard Manly