Sunday, August 29, 2021

No! to Fake Listapad Film Festival

Our very own Ministry of Culture and Belarusfilm have conspired to take Listapad film festival away from its dedicated team (Irina Demyanova, Igor Sukmanov, and many other wonderful people) who have labored for more than 10 years to make it an essential event that was the highlight of the year for any local cinephile, a worthwhile adventure for a casual film-goer and an important platform for young Belarusian filmmakers. More than that, ART Corporation (an umbrella company for Listapad, TEART, art film distribution, etc.) is being shut down altogether. While Belarusfilm is bragging that it will uphold the existing traditions and improve on them, it should be obvious to anyone that they have no expertise whatsoever to do this. After all, Belarusfilm has always been infamous for failing to submit even the films by its own filmmakers to international film festivals. Also, let's face it: their only films worth sending anywhere were the ones where directors were left to their own devices, because a documentary or an animated short wasn't considered worth bothering with. Watching any of their fiction features for the last twenty years, on the other hand, should be reason enough to say: they don't know a thing about cinema, and if there's anything at all they're proficient at, it's pleasing state officials. And yet they're supposedly going to try and use Listapad to promote their film studio and Belarus as a production site for foreign companies (while doing next to nothing to improve the actual production conditions). Belarusfilm managers might even award the films they produced in a lame attempt to boost their own prestige. Still, to each their own. Belarusfilm has settled comfortably in its opportunistic role that's neither that of a scab, nor quite culture police, but rather resembles both. Me, I'm just going to boycott this year's fake festival. I'm also reasonably sure that the days of this corrupt studio are over since it relies so heavily on public funding and the current unsustainable system in general.

And yet, it's not just us, something very similar has just happened to the team of U.K.'s Sheffield Doc/Fest. It looks like a board of trustees with what they probably see as commercial optimization can be no better than paternalist civil servants who serve only themselves. Even their style is similar: they all couldn't care less about cinema or people, they all prefer not to give any advance warning and tell you can reapply when the positions are advertised again.

So we shouldn't just wait for the beautiful tomorrow or 'прекрасное далёко'. Tomorrow isn't always beautiful and we should stand together now and work together when we can.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Best Film Criticism in 2020

Since I'm hardly ever writing anything here these days, at times this blog's sole purpose seems to be aggregating the links to some of the good film criticism I was fortunate to read throughout the year. And why not? Like always, this list doesn't aim to be exhaustive or impartial and might be expanded with comments, quotations and more links later on. Cineticle is, as ever, the best but absent from here.
Books on Film
  • Expressionism and Film by Rudolf Kurtz (John Libbey & Company, Indiana University Press, 2016) — available here
  • Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures: A Critical Anthology edited by Scott MacKenzie (University of California Press, 2014) 
  • Michael Snow (October Files Book 24) by Annette Michelson, Kenneth White (The MIT Press, 2019)
  • Realist Cinema as World Cinema. Non-cinema, Intermedial Passages, Total Cinema by Lúcia Nagib — available here
  • Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling by David Bordwell (University of Chicago Press, 2017) 
  • Screen Space Reconfigured edited by Susanne Saether, Synne Tollerud Bull — available here
  • The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (New York Review Books, 2003)
  • The Shape of Spectatorship: Art, Science, and Early Cinema in Germany by Scott Curtis (Columbia University Press, 2015)
  • Writings On Cinema (1919-1937) by Germaine Dulac (Paris Experimental, 2018)
  • Мария Костюкович. Детский сеанс (Медисонт, 2020) — случилось поговорить с автором о книге здесь
  • Евгений Марголит, Олег Ковалов, Марианна Киреева. Советский экспрессионизм: от Калигари до Сталина (Порядок слов, 2020) — вступление можно найти здесь, фрагменты на Горьком и в Cineticle
Written or Published in 2020
  • Srikanth Srinivasan's blog is still one of the best places to read a lot of great stuff for free. This year the riches include the translation of Luc Moullet's book on Fritz Lang. If you wish to support him and read a book on the amazing Amit Dutta, you can find it here.

Excerpts from "Modernism By Other Means: The Films of Amit Dutta": 1, 2, 3, 4.

In the Ship of Amit Dutta by Pascale Bodet

In Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), Barbara Bel Geddes’ character is a woman who knows too much— and, therefore, a woman who can never capture the romantic interest of the hero, Scottie (James Stewart). That falls to Kim Novak’s Madeleine, the sphinx in a grey suit. If men in classical Hollywood, to paraphrase Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), “aren’t attentive to girls who wear glasses,” this has less to do with any deleterious effect corrective lenses have on a woman’s physical appearance than more with the character attributes they are made to signify. The bespectacled woman is curious and desexualized; she takes a step towards being an active subject of vision and knowledge, away from her typical place as the object of the male gaze. Glasses are the sign that she trespasses on his terrain, however tentatively. Midge’s diligent efforts to care for Scottie and heal his past trauma echo the way he relates to Madeleine, casting him in the feminine role. He wears a therapeutic corset; she is there to catch him when he faints.

Each of my films is different and each film has a different quantity of narrativity. Speaking structurally, narrativity means presenting an event to the audience at a particular time, then referring to that event later. I have tried to control "narrativity" in different ways, trying to get [the film] situated in the ideal “now” of the cinema experience.
  • Lovely podcasts by Christopher Small and Lucia Salas. My favorite one was on Parasite and Ford's Pilgrimage.
  • Issue 1 of Sonic Scope, a new magazine on new approaches to audiovisual culture.
The illusions of pornography are well known. Chief among them, though maybe least discussed, is the idea that orgasm provides resolution — an erotic capstone that comes in the closing minutes. Offscreen, sex isn’t so easily solved. Cruising in particular is an impossible equation. For all the satisfaction you can find on your knees in a moonlit park, the restless desire that inspired that outing is bound to return in a matter of hours or days and so remains elusive. It’s something like fantasy in motion, sharing the same unpredictability and encroaching sense of danger that bolster all myths and legends. As with any good adventure, it’s the journey not the destination.
Steven Marsh shared a chapter from his new book SPANISH CINEMA AGAINST ITSELF (Indiana University Press, 2020). This monograph maps the evolution of Spanish surrealist and politically committed cinematic traditions from their origins in the 1930s—with the work of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, experimentalist José Val de Omar, and militant documentary filmmaker Carlos Velo—through to the contemporary period. Framed by film theory this book traces the works of understudied and non-canonical Spanish filmmakers, producers, and film collectives to open up alternate, more cosmopolitan and philosophical spaces for film discussion. In an age of the post-national and the postcinematic, Marsh’s work challenges conventional historiographical discourse, the concept of “national cinema,” and questions of form in cinematic practice.
Video Essays
Browsing the Archives
It is a commonplace wisdom to assert these days that ‘biography is fiction’ – but Brody’s effort comes off as more fictional than most biographies. The book has a frightful coherence: it is as if, very early on in the process, Brody decided on his neat interpretation of Godard, and then set about researching only those facts which would prove it. Brody has interviewed a significant number of Godard’s associates – many more than MacCabe did, but still only a fraction of the hundreds who have passed through the director’s prolific career. One sometimes suspects that a different ledger of interviewees might have produced a quite different portrait – as indeed Alain Bergala’s far superior Godard au travail (even though it only deals with the 1960s) proves.
But Brody, alas, has an axe to grind.
In an entry in his journal, Gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim remembers a certain convention one year of the American Society of Aesthetics: “Much confusion arose,” he recalls, “when the Society for Anesthetics met at the same time in the same hotel” (Arnheim 1989). The terms esthetic and anesthetic (or, as also commonly spelled, “aesthetic” and “anaesthetic”) are historically closely related. In the original Greek, they were counterparts of the same root concept, aisthetikos, which referred not just to works of art but to all sensory input. Any experience could be regarded as esthetic if provocative, striking, and stirringly felt, whereas anesthetic experiences were benumbing or stupefying. Esthetic quality was not a question of prettiness nor pleasantness, but of vividness and cogency. Since the 18th century, the meanings of these terms have changed. Today, despite their common origins, “esthetic” is rarely if ever defined as the antonym of “anesthetic.” Perhaps most contemporary philosophers, along with virtually everyone else (as witnessed by dictionary definitions), regard esthetics as the study of beauty, and, especially, the study of beauty in art. So, understandably, it seems like a madcap, surrealist event for estheticians and anestheticians to convene at the same hotel at the same time.
  • Notes on Militant Cinema (1967-1977) at Diagonal Thoughts.
  • Natasha Eves, Manuel Ramos-Martinez, Andrea Franco, Toni D'Angela on various experimental films (Psychic Driving by William E. Jones, Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars by Tomonari Nishikawa, Vivir para Vivir by Laida Lertxundi, Circumstantial Pleasure by Lewis Klahr).
Russian and Belarusian language / Русскоязычное / Беларускамоўнае
Смысловое поле, которым зрительская привычка окружила просмотр короткого метра, неизменно связано с недостачей. Будь то измерение экономическое — в котором за те же деньги предлагается провести в кинозале вместо положенных 90-120 минут всего каких-нибудь двадцать. Или феноменологическое, где кажется, что опыт, в сравнении с просмотром «полного метра», останется неполноценным. Подобное отношение, полностью подчиненное нормативной логике распределения экранных часов, сознательно поддерживается устройством проката: короткий метр — формат, не приживающийся в кинотеатрах (за последние годы можно вспомнить разве что недолго продержавшуюся на ограниченном количестве экранов «Невероятную» Луки Гуаданьино).
  • Не понял, зачем все эти расшаркивания и оправдания («Разумеется, сегодня мнение редакции не совпадает с мнением автора») перед хорошим архивным материалом — разгромной статьёй Александрова о «Психо» Хичкока — а тем более не одобряю купюр, но и в такой сомнительной подаче текст стоит прочитать.
  • Цвет воздуха Сергея Добротворского:
После Александра Тимофеевского, разглядевшего под легкой вуалью утопии жесткую мускулатуру тоталитарного мифа, о советских шестидесятых добавить нечего. Личность растворяется в общей судьбе, лицо — в поколении. Ностальгия по последним романтикам движется к финалу, к точке, к смысловому центру. «Драма людей, вышедших на трибуну на пятом съезде, заключается в том, что они искали свободы для себя, а пришла свобода вообще», — написал Вячеслав Шмыров в московском «Доме кино». Середина замыкающегося круга найдена: любую цену свободы готов платить лишь тот, кто не знает цены настоящей.
Что же делать с белорусским детским кино? Знаете что — нужно просто смириться с тем, что оно плохое, как все наше кино. И будет плохим: скучным, глупым, пустым и небрежным. Потому что детское кино — это дорогостоящее вложение в будущее. А мы не хотим будущего. Мы хотим жить в нашем неудобном, зато понятном прошлом.

Previous years:

Sunday, March 22, 2020

State Funerals in USSR and Soviet Belarus

A state funeral is a public funeral ceremony, observing the strict rules of protocol, held to honour people of national significance. State funerals usually include much pomp and ceremony as well as religious overtones and distinctive elements of military tradition. (Wikipedia)

Lenin's Funeral (1924)

Dzerzhinsky's Funeral (1926)

Kirov's Funeral (1934)

Kupala's Funeral (1942)

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Decade in Moving Images

This is mostly meant for personal use as a reminder of what I've seen and what I still value. Don't be alarmed if it doesn't seem to make sense as a whole. If you feel this way, you're probably right as this inventory hasn't been edited to highlight any filmmaking trends whatsoever.



Heimat Is a Space in Time / Heimat ist ein Raum aus Zeit (Thomas Heise)
Jallikattu (Lijo Jose Pellissery)
Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)
Pure Art / Чыстае мастацтва (Maksim Shved)
The Cordillera of Dreams / La cordillere des songes (Patricio Guzmán)
The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)
The Traitor / Il traditore (Marco Bellocchio)
Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)

TV shows

Atlanta (2nd season, Donald Glover, Hiro Murai, 2016-)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna, 2015-2019)
The Show About the Show (Caveh Zahedi, 2015-)


Ears. Eyes. Throats. Restored Classic and Lost Punk Films (1976-1981))

Monday, December 23, 2019

Best Film Criticism in 2019

Just like last year, I'm reminding you that some of the best film criticism you can find is at Cineticle (alas, in Russian only) but since I'm on the editing team there it's not going to be represented in this collection (well, almost). The list is extremely partial, incomplete and may be expanded later on. Also, the pieces here are mentioned for various reasons: some may be excellent criticism, others might offer illuminating research, or present a summary that I found useful for one reason or another.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Best Film Criticism in 2018

I have to say that some of the best film criticism you can find is at Cineticle (alas, in Russian only) but since I'm on the editing team there it's not going to be represented in this review. The list is extremely partial, incomplete and may be expanded later on. Also, the pieces here are mentioned for various reasons: some may be excellent criticism, others might offer illuminating research, or present a summary that I found useful for one reason or another. Some of the good stuff I've also translated into Russian, it's not included here as these texts are partly my work now, too.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

FIPRESCI Jury Statement at the 25th “Listapad” Film Festival

The FIPRESCI jury at the 25th edition of the Minsk International Film Festival “Listapad” regret to have learned that independent critics and industry representatives from Belarus are no longer actively part of the national competition’s selection committee at “Listapad”. In the long term, Belorussian cinema will only be fully represented at the event if its diversity is matched by the diversity of the bodies judging it. We thus hope the Ministry of Culture will consider opening up the national competition’s selection committee to help ensure that “Listapad” upholds its unique and international prestige as an event that celebrates the diverse cinemas of both the world, and Belarus. 

Lucy Virgen, György Kárpáti, Viera Langerová, Konstanty Kuzma, Maksim Karpitski