Editor’s Note: Soviet Film Series at Calvin College
One of my extracurricular responsibilities at the college I attend is my position as the general secretary of the Film Arts Committee. This year, with the assent of the other leadership in the organization, I decided to put on a miniature Soviet film festival, featuring some of the best moving pictures artists from the old USSR. These include luminary animators like Fyodor Khitruk, the master of montage Sergei Eisenstein, and futurist visionary “documentarian” Dziga Vertov. The full slate of features and shorts will be laid out below, but I wanted to spend some time and space explaining some of the reasons I set up this series to begin with.
1. Economic Expediency
Soviet films are widely available without copyright restrictions, and are often collected in high quality volumes from companies like Kino, making them easy to obtain and show. It is a Film Arts tradition to show older public domain films during the month of January, which is a time when students at the college are normally taking at most one class. It’s a relaxing and at time invigorating month despite the cold, and there are few topics better for this situation than Soviet film.
2. Showing People Obscure Animation
Regrettably, because of the biases of the film industry and the limited palettes of mass audiences in America, most of the great international names in animation are mostly unknown here. Yuriy Norshteyn and Fyodor Khitruk are only two of the numerous animators who flourished during Soviet times, producing creative and varied work that puts the homogeneous American (at least on the theatrical level) output to shame. Watch “The Island,” seen below, to see what I mean. I’m sure they’re not to everyone’s taste, but they’re high-quality creative products nonetheless.
3. Break the Stereotype of the USSR as a Cultural Wasteland
I am hoping that this prejudice is not as widespread as I think it is, but I suspect that, for many who attend, this will be the first time they encounter art from the Soviet Union outside of their high school history textbooks or college classes on propaganda. The USSR produced a wealth of cultural riches “despite” its hostility to capitalist markets economy. Breaking stereotypes and opening minds are tasks I take particular relish in.
The Film Series:
Battleship Potemkin directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Preceded by “Hedgehog in the Fog” directed by Yuriy Norshteyn
Man With a Movie Camera directed by Dziga Vertov
Preceded by “Film Film Film” directed by Fyodor Khitruk
UPDATE: For more information on the Battleship Potemkin showing, see here.