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.

Zhilkomservis No. 3: The Central Asian Janitors of Petersburg’s Central District

Central District for a Comfortable Environment
PB Films, 2019
vk.com/pb_films

On National Unity Day, after much deliberation, ordinary janitors agreed to tell us their stories of corruption, slave-like exploitation, “dead souls,” meager salaries, and problems with housing and working conditions.

Everything you see in our film is true.

Join the group Central District for a Comfortable Environment.

Children 404

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/children-404

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Short Summary

In the Fall of 2013 a Russian documentary filmmaker contacted numerous LGBTQ activists and filmmakers from Canada and the United States with whom they had worked with in previous years to screen their films.  The message they sent was a request to help fund a film that they believe desperately needs to be made: a documentary by Russian LGBTQ identified people about the impact of the recent anti-gay propaganda law on LGBTQ identified young people.  They reached out to us because this film will be impossible to make without the financial support from the international LGBTQ community since funding for such a project is not only impossible, but illegal within the Russian Federation.  So it is on behalf of our Russian colleague and their co-director that we are asking for your trust and support to help fund this vital project entitled Children 404.

Ryan Conrad, part-time faculty, Concordia University; Co-founder Against Equality
Thomas Waugh, full-time faculty, Concordia University Research Chair in Sexual Representation and in Documentary
Ezra Winton, part-time faculty, Concordia University; Co-founder and Director of Programming, Cinema Politica
Svetla Turnin, Co-founder and Executive Director, Cinema Politica

Film Description from the Russian co-directors:

Currently there are about 2.5 million LGBT children and teenagers in Russia. In June of 2013 Vladimir Putin signed into law a new bill that forbids “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors”. LGBT young people are now defenseless because of this “gay propaganda” law. It is now forbidden to tell them that they are healthy and not sick, sinful, or abnormal. Psychologists, teachers, and even parents could be fined or imprisoned for supporting LGBT young people. These LGBT young people are now being bullied and harassed even worse than ever before by peers, teachers, and parents in school and out. This climate of anti-LGBT violence and harassment is permissible because of Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law.

The main character of this documentary project is eighteen-year-old Pasha, who survived much anti-LGBT harassment and intimidation at school.  After recently finishing school he became an LGBT activist. Later this year he enters a Canadian university and moves to Canada for the foreseeable future. This film will also contains anonymous interviews with young people, parents, psychologists, teachers, and priests on both sides of the issue in Russia.

What We Need

All funding we gather will be transferred directly to our colleagues in Russia.  We keep nothing, nor do we act as traditional producers where we influence the content and outcome of the film.  We are simply conduits for funding since their lives would be at risk if they were to create an appeal themselves.

The simple timeline and budget shared with us by our Russian colleagues is as follows (in USD $):

Timeline:

  • Currently: Fundraising, development, pre-production
  • 01/09/2013 – 30/12/2013: Shooting, fundraising, production
  • 01/01/2013 – 31/03/2014: Post production
  • 31/03/2014: Film release

Budget:

  • Research period: $500
  • Travels around Russia $7000
  • Overhead charges $3000
  • Materials $2000
  • Editor $2000
  • Sound editor $1000
  • Color grade $1500
  • Translations $800
  • Digital media $1000

TOTAL BUDGET: $18,800.00

As you can see, we are trying to raise a significant portion of their total budget ($10,000 USD or $10,300 CAD) while they are carefully raising funds from within their own communities to make up the difference.  Anything we raise over the goal set here will only alleviate the necessity to find funds amongst their own community in these dangerous and demoralizing times for LGBTQ people in Russia.

The Impact

Directly from the mouths of our colleagues:

The Importance

“В этом году 2,5 миллиона ЛГБТдетей в России оказалось без возможности поддержки. Теперь, согласно новому закону «о запрете пропаганды нетрадиционных сексуальных отношений среди детей» сказать им что они нормальны – это преступление.”

“This year an estimated 2.5 million LGBT children and teenagers in Russia no longer have any support. Now according to the new bill which forbids ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors’ supporting them and telling them that they are not abnormal is a crime.”

The Impact

“Документальный проект «Дети 404» – это возможность для ЛГБТ-подростков перестать наконец быть невидимыми и рассказать свои истории зрителям фильма.”

“The documentary project “Children 404″ is an opportunity for LGBT young people to cease being invisible by telling their stories in their own words.”

Other Ways You Can Help

Some people just can’t contribute financially, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help:

  • Send this link on to your networks to help get the word out.
  • Stay informed about what is happening in Russia, especially the news and information coming directly from the mouths of LGBT Russians.

*press inquiries can be made via rconrad<at>meca<dot>edu*