Gunda

gundaGunda and piglet. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“I Ask Animals for Forgiveness”: The Life of a Remarkable Pig
Dmitry Volchek
Radio Svoboda
March 4, 2020

Not a single human being appears on screen. We see only animals whose lives are run by people: a one-legged chicken, bulls, cows, and, as the main character, a sow named Gunda (more accurately, Günda, as her name is spelled in Norway, where she lives).

“The Russian-born director Victor Kossakovsky offers us not simply a film, but a stunning experience of life.” “A simple yet absolutely astonishing documentary picture.” “An unusual film, and a captivating poetic work of art.” That is how American and European film critics rated Victor Kossakovsky’s documentary film Gunda, which premiered at the 70th Berlin Film Festival.

One of the film’s producers was Joaquin Phoenix, who dedicated his acceptance speech at the Oscars, where he won the Best Actor prize for his role in the film Joker, to animal rights. Like Victor Kossakovsky, Phoenix sticks to a vegan diet. But Gunda isn’t simply activist cinema, urging that slaughtering animals and consuming their corpses is disgusting. Just like Kossakovsky’s previous work, Aquarela, Gunda is an innovative and impeccably made film: every frame resembles a Dürer etching.

After the film’s Berlin premiere, Victor Kossakovsky answered Radio Svoboda’s questions.

Is Gunda still alive?

— I know that art cannot save the world, unfortunately, but we did manage to save one pig.  She has become famous, and her owner said, “Now, of course, I won’t be able to kill her. Let her live as long as she’s supposed to.” Piglets live, on average, four to six months, while sows live two to three years. But now Gunda will live twenty-five to thirty years. My film saved one pig.

How did you meet her?

— That was very simple. We’d planned on about half a year for casting the animals, but I found her on the very first day, in the first minute. I arrived in Norway, dropped by my first farm, opened the door, and caught sight of Gunda. I said to the producer, “We’ve found our Meryl Streep — there she is!” The producer was in shock: “You’re probably joking. No doubt she is just a candidate.” I said, “No, we’ve found her. End of story.” It had dawned on me that I could look at her endlessly: she really was like Meryl Streep. I should say that for twenty years I could not find money for this film. In 1997, I showed my film Wednesday at the Berlinale. When I was awarded the International Federation of Film Critics Prize, a small press conference was organized for me. I was asked, “What will your next film be? What film do you dream of making?” I said, “I’d like to make a film about a pig, a cow, and a chicken.” From that time on, however, I was unable to find anyone who would agree to produce it, neither in Russia nor in any other country, until I found a Norwegian woman who took the risk. I lucked out: at last I’ve made the film that I’d wanted to make my whole life.

You mentioned Meryl Streep, but it seemed to me that, at the end, Gunda was transformed into Anna Magnani in the film Mamma Roma.

— Oh, how brilliant you are! That’s really the case. There is, of course, a turnaround at the end of the film, where she is Anna Magnani, an allusion to the film Mamma Roma. Thank you for noticing. Of course, in every film there’s a first plane, second plane, thirteenth plane — there are things that not everyone sees.

You filmed not only in Norway, but in England as well. Am I right that the cows live in different places?

— Yes, we filmed the cows in two places. The episode when they stand head to tail and help one another swat away flies with their tails we filmed in Spain, on the border with France. We filmed the main episode with cows in England, and the chickens were filmed in Wales. In England and Spain, compassionate people buy cows, chickens, and pigs from farmers who are taking the animals to the slaughterhouse and give them a second chance. Ordinary private citizens living in country homes buy cows and say, “There’s grass all around, live here as long as you like.” For that reason, those animals are so friendly: they weren’t afraid of the camera. A huge two-meter-high bull allowed us to walk right up to him. The chickens had never been outside: they’d been born and had stood, twenty to a cage, their whole lives. We found people who bought those cages and let out the chickens. It turned out that when the door was opened, the chickens would not come out for an entire hour. They didn’t know that it was possible to go out: they’d lived their whole lives in a cage, cramped, never once in their lives spreading their wings, never once in their lives catching sight of the sky. When they came out, they were even afraid of stepping on the grass, as if it were boiling water. They lifted their feet off the grass as if they’d been scalded. And those cows had never been outdoors. They didn’t even know that they should eat the grass: they went out and just sniffed it The bull walked up to a tree and only sniffed the leaves. How intoxicatingly beautiful it was when those cows began to dance and jump! Those chickens were shocked by their freedom: they looked around, not understanding where they were, and reacting to every sound. They opened their wings for the first time in their lives and then looked at themselves: how could this be?

I know that cinema won’t change the world, but I made a movie in order to say to animals, “Forgive me for not being able to do anything.” At least we saved one sow from being consumed. In my movie, for example, there’s a cow who is twenty-two years old. Have you ever seen a twenty-two-year-old cow? Cows are killed as soon as they stop producing enough milk. But in my film the cow lives. You look at her face, and you can see fate in her eyes. She’s a grandmother of sorts, even a great-grandmother. We permit ourselves not to think about the fact that we’re murderers. We allow ourselves to forget it.

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Victor Kossakovsky

The filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky was born in Leningrad in 1961. He lives in Berlin. His documentary films include Losev (1989), Wednesday 7/19/61 (1997), Quiet! (2002), and Long Live the Antipodes! (2011). He is a winner of the Triumph (1997) and Nika (1998) Russian film prizes, and of numerous international film festival awards. In 2019, his film Aquarela was shortlisted along with fourteen other films for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature.

“As a documentary filmmaker, I probably bear some responsibility for not shooting something about Russia, but it seems to me that there are more problems on earth. Because the very fact that there is Putin, the very fact that there is war, speaks to the point that something about us as biological creatures is not right. If Russians are fighting Ukrainians, something about us, not about Russians and Ukrainians, but about humankind, is wrong. So, I want to understand what this creature — man — is, and what his place on earth is.”

Source: Interview with Radio Liberty (2018)

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The festival catalogue said that everyone who saw your film would stop eating meat.

— Even the smartest people, even the most distinguished artists who’ve seen the picture, hugged me afterward while ordering hamburgers and citing the notion that, all the same, everything in nature is founded on the struggle for survival. We’ve been living for several centuries in the era of humanism. Many things helped us get rid of slavery, racism, and cannibalism. Now we’re starting to recognize the rights of people with untraditional sexual orientations.

It wasn’t so long ago, after all, that suffragettes were thrown in prison for demanding that women be given the right to vote.

— In my country, there was serfdom 150 years ago. Seventy years ago here, in Germany, and in my country, millions of people were murdered. We are unbelievably aggressive, we have to admit that. Our awareness lags behind our intellect. We’re capable of inventing cars, computers, cinema, rockets, Novichok, and atom bombs, and yet we’re incapable of understanding that killing is wrong. Killing not only people, but killing per se is wrong. But we’ve learned to block that out. Every one of us knows that at dinner, breakfast and supper, we’re consuming the meat of murdered creatures, but we allow ourselves not to think about that, we simply block it out. We know that murder exists, but we’ve come to an agreement that is doesn’t exist. Basically, murder is bad, but in the given instance, as far as dinner goes, it’s okay. That is, we split our intellect and our awareness. So, I wanted to title this film “My Apology.” I’m making an apology to animals for not being able to change the world. I can’t even convince my closest friends that this is crazy. Even the most distinguished cultural figures say to me, “It’s the law of nature.” Even they live with blinders on. They don’t really know the laws of nature: they’ve been told that predators are aggressive. They don’t know that animals are capable of self-sacrifice, love, and mutual aid. They don’t know that, but I do know it. I’ve seen it.

People live inside myths and justify their own ugliness and irrationality. Their hardheartedness is justified by the claim that supposed laws of nature exist allowing the strongest to kill the weak. They don’t exist — it’s a myth. In nature, there’s so much beauty that we’ve never even dreamed of. Every animal is capable of decency. It’s time for us, too, to remember it. Everyone knows that dogs and cats are intelligent animals. Everyone knows that your dog loves you. Everyone knows that it shares your emotions with you, that it’s ready to help you when you’re feeling bad. The same is true of cows, chickens, and pigs. They also have feelings, they are also intelligent, and they also have compassion. They’re ready to sacrifice themselves. But here we have the British Parliament, under pressure from farmers, passing a law that it’s supposedly okay to kill animals because they don’t feel pain. It’s not only our government of imbeciles. No, the willfully unseeing are everywhere.

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Joaquin Phoenix on Gunda:

“Gunda is a mesmerizing perspective on sentience within animal species, normally — and perhaps purposely — hidden from our view. Displays of pride and reverence, amusement and bliss at a pig’s inquisitive young; her panic, despair and utter defeat in the face of cruel trickery, are validations of just how similarly all species react and cope with events in our respective lives. Victor Kossakovsky has crafted a visceral meditation on existence that transcends the normal barriers that separate species. It is a film of profound importance and artistry.”

_______________________

— At a meeting with young filmmakers, you spoke about the fact that you’re outraged by Putin’s decision to sign the law on hunting captive animals.

— Yes, he has legalized the very basest thing that man can do. I would recommend that all of our women living with men who go and hunt captive animals refuse to have sex with them. They’ll come home from hunting animals in captivity and show photographs of how they killed a bear, and their wives will say to them, “Pardon me, dear, go live with the bears.” That’s the most shameful thing one can do — chase animals into an enclosure and shoot them dead point-blank using a carbine with an optical sight. Leonardo da Vinci said five hundred years ago that killing a human and killing an animal were one and the same thing. A hundred years ago, Tolstoy urged us to come to our senses, but we sign a law on hunting captive animals! Where are we headed, friends, where is our country being dragged? It’s being dragged into an ignorant, loathsome past, a vulgarian past armed with a carbine.

— In your movie there’s not a single human word, but the grunting of Gunda and her piglets seems like speech, music even.

— We recorded several times more quickly than usual, and then we looked at the diagram. We laid out these sounds and found that the cows have approximately 270 words, while the pigs have about 300 different words. They pronounce 300 words! That’s only what we managed to do with our technology. That’s not just one “moo”: our ears can’t perceive them in any other way, but these are various “moos.” An animal’s children react differently to her voice. We are blind and deaf. We simply don’t want to know that they suffer. Think for yourself. We live on this planet together. There are now twenty billion chickens on earth. We kill fifty billion animals a year.

— Then the other half are discarded because they weren’t eaten.

— There are one billion pigs on the planet right now, and we will kill them. They can live up to twenty years. There are one and a half billion cows, and we will kill one third of them this year. We’ll kill all of them, freeze them, and transport them on ships from Argentina, from Brazil. On average, each person eats 100 kilograms of meat [a year] – in Europe slightly less, in America slightly more. Look at what’s happening: there are seven billion of us, and each of us eats 100 kilograms of meat [a year]. Just think about the kinds of numbers I’m talking about. It’s a killing machine. You also have to have slaughterhouses and processing plants. You have to get rid of the waste. You have to freeze, transport, saw up, chop up, freeze, pack up, and sell the meat.

— Industrial animal husbandry is the same kind of system as the Gulag.

— And it’s causing huge pollution to the planet. Why do we think that they’re made differently from us, that we’re so privileged? To save our hearts we use pig organs. And yet we think that we suffer more than they do.

— There’s not a single human being in your film. Only in the final shot do humans appear, in the shape of a beastly iron machine.  Why did you exclude all people from the picture?

— Many films have been made on this topic. Many attempts have been made to capture the slaughterhouse, the blood. It doesn’t work. There’s a good documentary film on the subject, Our Daily Bread. There have been several artistically serious films, but they changed nothing about people’s lives. I thought that I needed to come at it from another direction completely. I tried to do it in such a way that people would see animals as they are, and not as we perceive them. I filmed them at such a distance in order to give them full freedom. And it’s not me who approached Gunda, but she who approached me. That’s a very important point. When they took her children away from her, she came up to me and looked right into my eyes, because there was no one else for her to talk to. She was left alone, suffered for fifteen minutes, and in the end came up to me. Basically, she said to me, “What are you all doing to me?” Then she turned away, glancing at me from afar: “What’s the point in talking to you?” And she walked away. That’s how empty we people are — even a pig could say that to us.

— How did you arrive at veganism?

— It was simple. At the age of four years, I found myself by chance in a small village where there was a pig. It was a cold winter. The pig was left alone, but its two-week-old piglet was brought into the house, and a little pen was made for him. When everyone left for work, he and I ran would run around the house, and afterward we would put things back together: I took the floor rug by one end, and he took the other with his teeth, and we straightened it out. He was the dearest creature to me: he loved me, and I loved him. He understood me and didn’t just run after me. He played with me, and I played with him. I worried about him, and he worried about me. When they slaughtered him, it was the end of the world for me. I couldn’t understand how my relatives could kill my best friend.

My mother later said, “Where does all this come from in you? What is this nonsense in your head? That’s the way the world is made, that one eats another.” I said, “Mama, you taught me this yourself.” One of my earliest memories from childhood was the two us walking down the street. It was a beautiful summer, and I tore a leaf off a bush. I looked at the light, at the setting sun. And I said to my mother, “Look, what a beautiful leaf.” She said, “Tear out one of your own tiny hairs. Does it hurt?” – “It hurts.” – “That’s how the bush hurt, too, when you tore off this leaf.” My mom had given me this immunity. Remember what Dostoevsky said: “I cannot understand how it’s possible to pass by a tree, see it, and not be happy, not feel happiness.” How is it possible not to be happy, seeing this improbably beautiful world? How is it possible to build bombs and frighten other people, instead of thanking your lucky stars that you were born? How is it possible to cut down trees instead of planting them? How is it possible to kill animals instead of giving them freedom and leaving them alone? We should just forget about them, leave them alone and not kill them. After all, they don’t take our children from us. They don’t put us in cages. Look, my pig spends most of its time digging in the dirt. But in point of fact, ninety-nine percent of pigs are born in small cages set on cement floors, and are never able, during their short lives, to root around in the dirt.

What do we do? We only yell: hey, people, what about human rights? Fine, human rights we’ve already grasped. What’s next? There’s no slavery. What’s next? We’re not murdering millions. What’s next? We recognize [the rights of] gays. What’s next? The next step is recognizing that animals have the same rights as we do to live in this world. The next step is admitting that we can choose not to kill.

— And we can get by perfectly well without meat.

— Look at the horse: it’s stronger than you are.

— Look at the elephant!

— The elephant is a hundred times stronger than you are, and it’s a vegetarian. My friends, what are these idiotic ideas you tell me, that, in order for me to work in a slaughterhouse, I need to eat a pig? You don’t need to eat a pig. I can only repeat what Tolstoy said: “Killing a human or killing an animal: it’s the same act of murder.” We live as creatures who allow themselves to kill — that’s the main thing. And we won’t budge forward an inch until we understand that.

Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin and Alexander Markov for the heads-up. Translated by Mary Rees

A Long Happy Life

“Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense). A Long Happy Life.” Images courtesy of RedBubble

A Long Happy Life
No to commotions and celebrations
No to horizons and celebrations
No to inspirations and celebrations, no, no, no
No fish in the golden polynya
Omnipresence of petty intrigues
Evil twilight of an immortal day
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
Ruthless depths of wrinkles
Mariana trenches of eyes
Martian chronicles of us, us, us
Among the identical walls
In the faraway coffin-like houses
In the impenetrable icy silence
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
No to temptations and celebrations
No to crimes and celebrations
No to exceptions and celebrations, no, no, no
On the seven sharp drafts
Through the swamps, through the deserts and steppes
Through the snow piles, through dirt and through land
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
A long and happy life
Such a long and happy life
From now on a long and happy life
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us
For every one of us

Source: Lyrics Translate

 

Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense), “A Long Happy Life” (2004)

 

_______________________

Victor looked out the window at the barge passing by, thinking that everything was still ahead of him, and that the most important thing that should happen in every person’s life would happen to him. And he was convinced of this, although each time he lost more than he found.

Source: Gennady Shpalikov, “A Long Happy Life” (screenplay)

 

Gennady Shpalikov (director), A Long Happy Life (1966)

Gennady Shpalikov’s first movie as a director, based on his own script, went down in the history of Soviet cinema as an absolutely unique phenomenon. Socialist propaganda seemed to have no power over Shpalikov’s work. Free from cliches, it was like a breath of fresh air in a country that was tightly closed off from the whole world by an iron curtain. A Long Happy Life resembles the films of the French New Wave rather than other Soviet films that were shot at the time. 

Returning from an expedition, a geologist named Victor finds himself in a small provincial town, where he meets a girl named Lena. What is commonly called love at first sight arises between them. Sensing that they are kindred souls, they spend the evening and night together, sharing all the most intimate things: thoughts about life, happiness and love. However, either the morning or their inner fears of this selfsame long happy life cancel out all their plans and dreams.

Source: IVI

Mashed up and (partly) translated by the Russian Reader

Night over Chile

Poster for the 1977 Soviet film Night Over Chile

George Losev
Facebook
March 13, 2021

I watched the old Soviet movie Night over Chile on the TV at work. Despite a certain theatricality that was slightly inappropriate for a Soviet mockumentary (yes, yes), it does a very good job of conveying the atmosphere of fear and hopelessness that we are experiencing now, when faced with the Russian state.

And perhaps that was why the film didn’t cause the average Soviet person to feel anything. They knew what it was about, but they didn’t feel it.

Night over Chile is a film by Chilean film director Sebastián Alarcón and Soviet film director Alexander Kosarev, shot at Mosfilm Studios (USSR) in 1977. The historical drama recounts realistic accuracy the 1973 military coup in Chile and the subsequent crackdown, as seen through the eyes of the young architect Manuel, who is at the center of the events. The 10th Moscow Film Festival celebrated the work of the directors by awarding them a special prize for their directorial debut.

Young architect Manuel’s (Grigore Grigoriu) life purpose is to construct new beautiful houses. He is not interested in politics, showing everyone around him complete neutrality. However the events of 11 September 1973 shatter his perfect little world. The murder of lawful President Allende, arrests without charges and court decisions fundamentally change Manuel’s outlook on what is happening. Because a leftist activist escaped from a raid through his apartment, the architect gets thrown into jail, goes through torture and abuse, and witnesses mass executions (at the infamous National Stadium). Manuel understands that the only way for an honest man is the path of the political struggle, the national resistance.

The film was shot on location in Baku, but the recreation of the events at the National Stadium was filmed at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Cast:
Grigore Gregoriu — Manuel Valdiva
Baadur Tsuladze — Maria’s Husband
Giuli Chokhonelidze — Juan Gonzalez
Islam Kaziyev – Junta Officer
Sadykh Huseynov — Rolando Machuc
Vytautas Kancleris — Don Carlos
Roman Khomyatov — Junta Officer
Victor Soțchi-Voinicescu — Domingo
Mircea Soțchi-Voinicescu — Roberto
Vsevolod Gavrilov — Padre
Nartai Begalin — Soldier
Maria Sagaidak — Esperanza
Bakhrom Akramov
Leon Kukulyan — Orlando
Oleg Fedorov — Reporter
Sebastián Alarcón
Mayak Kerimov
Nina Pushkova — Pamela

Source: articles on the film published in the Russian and English versions of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

Special Detention Center Days

Special Detention Center Days: How the Security Forces Have Tried to Intimidate Protesters
Sonya Groysman
Proekt
February 15, 2021

After three “unauthorized” protest actions in support of Alexei Navalny (January 23 and 31, and February 2), more than a thousand people were sentenced to serve time in jail: this is a record for [post-Soviet] Russia. In this video, protesters who have already been released tell us how their days in police departments and special detention centers went. Do they now regret having been involved in the protests? Most importantly, were the authorities able to intimidate them?

24 mins, 19 seconds. In Russian, with Russian subtitles

At the 21:00 mark, an unidentified young man, just released from a special detention center, says the following on camera:

“Russia is definitely going to be free. […] They didn’t intimidate anyone in the slightest [by arresting and jailing them]. On the contrary, folks banded together even more. [The authorities] only incited more hatred. […] We are young, after all, and time is on our side. It’s only a question of time. We’ll even the score.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Empire Strikes Back

. . . in the heart of the old imperial capital, Saint Petersburg.

We can thank Vladislav Ivanov for the “footage.” (And I thank Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko for sharing it with me.) In keeping with the message of this video, if not its jocular tone, a friend in Petersburg just wrote to me, “Tomorrow we are going for a ‘walk’ on the Nevsky. It was already flooded with police and National Guardsman on Saturday. It’s scary. But we try and overcome our fear, taking our cue from the younger generation.” \\ TRR

 

The Trailer

Ilia Kazakov
Facebook
January 25, 2021

Konstantin Selin is a born cameraman! He worked all Saturday in the epicenter of the largest protests in recent years in Petersburg, miraculously avoided getting shoved into a paddy wagon, and brought back the best video. I don’t know how he does it every time, but it looks like a seamless trailer for a documentary film, something for which Kostya deservedly gets awards the rest of the time. Only in his footage can you look into the eyes of a young man in the police cordon, hear what is being said in the crowd, and look at the faces. And what an ending! There is no need to read a dozen news stories and analysts, just set aside five minutes and watch this video once.

Grassroots

The English term “grassroots” is often used around the world to denote local civic activism.

The documentary film Grassroots explores three landmark environmental struggle—the fight to save the Suna Forest in Karelia, the ongoing work of EcoWatch in Krasnodar Territory, and the fight to save the Khopyor River in Voronezh Region—using them as a springboard for trying to answer the main questions facing environmental activists in our country today.

In the film, we hear the voices of many environmental activists and listen to the opinions of the most experienced of them, including Yevgeny Vitishko, Andrei Rudomakha, Konstantin Rubakhin, Suren Gazaryan, Yevgeniya Chirikova, Tatyana Chestina, and Grigory Kuksin.

Some of these extraordinary activists have been forced into exile, while others have done serious prison time.

What does it cost to defend our forests, parks, and cities? Who is up to the task?

Director: Konstantin Davydkin
Producer: Maria Muskevich
2018, 58 min., Russia; in Russian with no subtitles
Production: Regista Studio / Make a Movie Production Center

Annotation translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for encouraging me to watch the movie.

Against Xenophobia and Islamophobia (The Lost Portraits of Bradford)

Thanks to my wonderful British “cousin” AC for bringing my attention to this lovely, sweet, humane and profoundly democratic 2019 BBC TV documentary about a now-defunct photo portrait studio in Bradford and its incredible archive of the city’s changing human face. It’s welcome tonic to my soul as the leading liberal lights in my adopted former “homeland” of Russia indulge in yet another orgy of Islamophobia over horrible crimes committed in completely different countries.

I wish they would watch this documentary and take its message to heart. It might surprise them to learn that not all “westerners” are rabid racists, xenophobes, and Islamophobes. People can learn to live together, learn “conviviality” and unlearn “post-imperial melancholia,” as the great Paul Gilroy (a world-famous contemporary scholar whose works are totally absent in Russian translation, unsurprisingly) has called them. |||| TRR

Thirty years ago, thousands of portraits from a small studio in Bradford were saved from a skip. They form a unique collection of photographs that records the changing face of a British industrial city in the middle of the 20th century. Many of the people in the portraits were new arrivals from the Asian subcontinent, eastern Europe and the Caribbean, attracted by the offer of work in wool mills. The names of these people are a mystery – only their faces survive.

A small studio, Belle Vue, in the middle of Bradford, built a business on taking portraits of the newly-arrived migrants. Photographer Tony Walker used a battered Victorian camera to take images of his customers, which were often sent back to relatives in the countries they’d left behind.

Working alongside staff from museums in Bradford, presenter Shanaz Gulzar identifies and tracks down the people in the portraits, and uncovers dramatic social change and the hidden stories behind the portraits.

The Russian National Guard Has Canceled Your Yulia Tsvetkova Solidarity Film Screening

Flacon Design Factory in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Popcornnews.ru

Russian National Guardsmen Disrupt Screening of Film in Support of Yulia Tsvetkova at Flacon Design Factory in Moscow
MBKh Media
September 15, 2020

Russian National Guardsmen have come to the Flacon Design Factory in Moscow and stopped a screening of the [2014 documentary] film Vulva 3.0, an event planned in support of the activist Yulia Tsvetkova. The screening’s curator, Andrei Parshikov, reported the incident to MBKh Media.

According to Parshikov, Petrovka 38 [Moscow police headquarters] had received an anonymous call that so-called propaganda of homosexualism [sic] would take place during the event.

“First, Petrovka 38 got an anonymous call, and then the local police precinct was informed about the call. The precinct commander came to Flacon and said that things looked bad. We told him about the movie. He said that while he understood everything, he couldn’t help us because since Petrovka 38 had received the call, a detachment would be dispatched in any case and they would shut down the screening. The only solution, he said, was to give the local police a screening copy of the film so they could that could look at it and make sure it checked out, but he still could not promise anything. We said, Okay, we’ll give you a screening copy, and we’ll postpone the screening,” Parshikov said.

Subsequently, around twenty Russian National Guardsmen arrived at Flacon. They are patrolling the premises and making it impossible to screen the film.

UPDATE (8:24 p.m.)

The screening of the film has been canceled for today, curator Andrey Parshikov has informed MBKh Media. According to him, the Russian National Guardsmen are still at Flacon. Parshikov added that the film would be sent for a forensic examination tomorrow.

Yulia Tsvetkova is an activist from Komsomolsk-on-Amur. In November 2019, she was charged with “distributing pornography”(under Article 242.3.b of the Russian Criminal Code) over body-positive drawings she published on Vagina Monologues, a social media group page that she moderated. Due to pressure and harassment, she had to close the Merak Children’s Theater [which she ran with her mother].

Law enforcement authorities began their criminal inquiry into Tsvetkova after two criminal complaints were filed against her by Timur Bulatov, who runs the homophobic social media group page Moral Jihad, which mostly publishes threats, insults, and Bulatov’s own derogatory monologues about gays.  [Bulatov] informed the police that Tsvetkova was distributing pornography.

Tsvetkova was subsequently also charged with several administrative offenses for “promoting non-traditional sexual relations” on her personal page on VK and the group pages Komsomolka: Intersectional Feminism and The Last Supper: LGBTQIAPP+on-Amur | 18+.  Tsvetkova was convicted on these charges and fined.

Thanks to Maria Mila for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

A Tram Runs Through the City (Leningrad, 1973)

Moving along from street to street, the tram gains speed, brakes, stops and lets passengers out and on. They make for a seat or stay on their feet, leaning against the doors or hanging from the handles above. Then the tram gets underway, off to the next stop. The down-to-earth driver talks about her job and her life in St. Petersburg (still known as Leningrad when the film was made), the second biggest city in Russia. As she drives, she is filmed from above so we get to look her in the eye. The expressions of her passengers are also captured as they peer out the window, look at one another, read the paper, daydream or just stare off into space. This is all about observing and being observed, a game that Russian documentarian Lyudmila Stanukinas loves to play. She intercuts the microcosm of the tram with telling observations from outside: a statue filmed through the trees, and the rippling water of the Neva River, the bubbling heart of the city. Stanukinas develops a Russian variation on direct cinema, combining it with the visual poetry of city symphonies from the 1930s, made by countrymen such as Dziga Vertov. Though this is the Soviet Union of the 1970s, communism seems far away for the moment. For now, it’s all about the day-to-day goings on in the tram. (Kinoglaz)

A Tram Runs Through the City (Leningrad, 1973)

[Title] Lyudmila Grigorovich, a driver based at the Leonov Tram Depot

[Title] Monday shift: 6:13 a.m. to 12:52 p.m

[Voiceover] That’s how it goes. I drive myself around in the morning, the car is half-empty. Familiar places that I ran around as a child. Before the war, my mother also worked on the trams as a conductor out of the Leonov Depot.

That is where I went to kindergarten.

I love my tram, I love it more than any other job. If you do a good job of getting ready and get a good night’s sleep, it’s a joy to work. I’m rarely in a bad mood. Although one of our drivers says that going to work is like walking uphill. For me, it’s like walking downhill.

[Loudspeaker] “Gavanskaya Street!”

It’s always quiet in the car in the morning. My passengers are half asleep, half dozing. They’re not talkative now. That’s okay: by evening, they’ll be talking up a storm. It’s quiet. They’re reading newspapers.

My kids, Zhenka and Galya, also want to be tram drivers. Zhenka can oversleep and be late for school, but s/he will come to meet my tram, even at night. 

[Newspaper headline] “A strategy for peaceful coexistence”

I know that man. He works somewhere at the Baltic Shipyard.

[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Baltic Shipyard!”

Oh, look how many people the subway has coughed up: it’s a throng.

Sometimes, a passenger is coming to getting on my tram, supposedly, but they move so lazily, in no hurry, flailing around trying to figure out what door to enter. I immediately get angry and close the doors. You have to decide right away whether you’re getting on or not. A passenger who is slow on the uptake. In the evening, I wait for all of them to get on: they have to make it home. It’s a long wait between trams.

Soon the commercial workers will go to work: their time is approaching.

What’s it going to be, old woman? Are you and I going to avoid a collision?

People are like pigeons. They don’t hurry and they don’t fly. And they walk on the tracks. I read them. I don’t take my eyes off them. They always run out onto the tram tracks, thinking it’s a safe area. So, I have to think for them in order to save their lives. You need to have a sense of pedestrians, of which ones will run out on the tracks, and which won’t.

I love the morning shift. At twelve o’clock that’s it: you have the whole day ahead of you. You still have time to cook lunch.

[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Nevsky Prospect. . . Transit tickets are available for sale.”

They keep traveling. Some have caught up on their sleep, while others are headed to the night shift. Why do they keep on traveling? Where are they going?

Our interactions with people are very limited. That’s why I suffer heart and soul over the fact I can’t chat with them. I watch them in silence: that is my only way of interacting and getting to know them.

Our work is not so nerve-wracking. It just requires maximum concentration. Basically, you have to like people. If you don’t like them you might jam them in the doors. You have to keep your eyes peeled the whole time. When I sneeze and my eyes close, I get scared. When I close my eyes, the car can travel eight meters in that instant, but there is no way I can sneeze with my eyes open. Soon the tram would be going sixty kilometers an hour, and then, I think, I could run someone over.

[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Piskarevsky Prospect.”

I remember the war, the Siege [of Leningrad]. I remember that Mom would lock me in our room. I was very afraid when the sky blazed red. The neighbor lady would be cooking wood glue [to eat], and it smelled really delicious.

[Title] Wednesday: shift from 1:06 p.m. to 5:41 p.m.

What weather today! It’s the most typical Leningrad weather.

Now there are more female passengers, including old women, wallets in hand, going to the market. They’re a cagey lot: potential nannies, who are in short supply.

[Loudspeaker] “Peace Square.”

Here, on the fifth floor, my child draws blueprints. It’s been a month since my daughter Galka became an adult.

Everybody bothers the elderly passengers. Why are you traveling during working hours? Are you having trouble sleeping? Once, this one old woman was standing next to the door. People kept asking whether she was getting off. She kept answering, “I’m thinking about whether this is my stop.” Finally, everyone lost their cool and told her to get off. She said, “I’ll get off, I’ll get off, dears, it’s a big day.” It was like a comedy.

I think I’m the first to see “natural phenomena”: how people dress, what the fashions are, what the trends in colors are. It all happens right before my eyes. I manage to see everything. If a housewife is drinking tea on the second floor, I see what she’s having with it.

[Loudspeaker] “Field of Mars.”

Galka and I often talk about life and love. Galya keeps asking me, “How do you get to know a person?” Spend more time talking to them, I tell her. Their personality will come out, they’ll reveal themselves.

[Loudspeaker] “Institute of Technology.”

[Loudspeaker] “Elektrosila subway station. Next stop is the Moscow Gate.”

[Title] Friday: shift from 6:30 p.m. to 12:49 a.m.

My No. 40 tram sails through the city. People keep waiting and waiting. They keep putting their hands over their eyes to see whether the tram is coming.

When my children were little, I would tell them poetically,  “When dusk descends on the city, the tram’s green eyes light up.” Yes, she’s a fashionable one, my No. 40. [Leningrad-Petersburg trams use a system of two lights and a combination of four colors—red, blue, green, and yellow—to indicate their numbers in the dark. The code for Tram No. 40 is two green lights.]

I tell Galka that, in my opinion, unofficially, behind the scenes, a matriarchy exists: you have to raise not only your kids, but your husband as well. You’ve got to plan the weekend. He’s not going to think about where to go, what to take along. You have to make all the preparations and discuss everything. Basically, the way the woman organizes life is how it’s going to be.

How marvelous! The cold is so palpable. When there are fireworks here, we travel slowly along this section, and even the passengers don’t want me to go faster. You can see how beautiful it is. Just imagine: our city stands on one hundred islands. And all the bridges: there are almost six hundred of them. Where else can you find a marvel like our city?

In the evening, there is light in the windows and you see what kind of furniture people have, how they’ve decorated their places in their own way, the way they feel it. On Science Prospect there is a small room whose walls are lined with bookcases. When I drive by in the evening, I always look at it.

[Loudspeaker] “Theater Square.”

We really love the opera, we go to the ballet and to hear music. When we go to a concert and take Zhenka with us, and I see on the program that there will be an evening of organ music, I manage to read the entire program, trying to calculate when Galka and I will have an evening off.

My Galka doesn’t use make-up or paint her face. That’s my influence. By the way, she doesn’t like perfume or cologne. She likes it when people don’t smell of anything, like clean dishes.

[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Kamennoostrovsky Prospect. . . Please don’t forget to pay your fare.”

It happens that, when you’re returning to the depot in the evening or even late at night, some people feel like chatting, but usually acquaintances are not struck up then. Sometimes, though, you look in the mirror, to take a break for a second, and wink back. The drivers sometimes make eyes at each other, too. It’s okay—if they like each other’s looks, if they’re working the same route. Generally, though, I put on a strict, official face: when I’m driving I don’t give anyone cause to make eyes at me.

[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Labor Square.”

Those two will be out all night. The wanderers and the strays ride the trams in the evening.

[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment.”

It’s not a talkative job: you’re always rattling off the same stops like a parrot.

[Loudspeaker] “This tram is going to the Leonov Depot.”

What’s the point in crying? All the same it’s good to be alive. The tram will be around for a long time to come.

If the trams stopped tonmorrow, everyone would be upset. Trams make frequent stops and crawl to all the ends of the city. Although they’re crowded inside, tram’s are still good a good thing.

Screenplay: Maya Merkel
Director: Lyudmila Stanukinas
Camera: Yuri Zanin
Sound: Nina Zinina
Music: Vladimir Arzumanov and Alexander Knaifel
Editor: Taisa Yanson

Leningrad Studio of Documentary Films

Transcribed and translated by the Russian Reader, with timely assistance from Comrade Koganzon. To help me continue translating and editing this website you can donate at your discretion at paypal.me/avvakum.

Lyudmila Stanukinas, the film’s director, died in Jerusalem on July 8, 2020, at the age of 89. Her distinguished career as a documentary filmmaker included a series of films about famous Soviet writers, actors, and musicians, as well as Moving Day (1970), which won a Silver Dragon at the 7th Krakow International Short Film Festival. Viktor Kossakovsky has made a film about Stanukinas and her husband the filmmaker Pavel Kogan, the award-winning Pavel and Lyalya (1998).

The 1973 Leningrad Public Transport Route Map. Although Lyudmila Grigorovich, the narrator and heroine of A Tram Runs Through the City, says that she is driving the No. 40 tram, its route, neither nowadays nor in 1973, has ever passed through all the stops she calls out in the film, which are located in very different parts of the city.