East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 4, No. 4, Fall 1996, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

Feature Film Videos
A Picture Window on Russian and East European Life

Wil Triggs

Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, in an essay published shortly before his death in 1985, expressed the feelings of many people raised under Soviet Communism when he stated,

Even as the Western world's cinema gave way to television in popular consciousness and, some would say, has gone on to become more and more like television, Soviet feature films after Stalin increasingly expressed distinctively Eastern perspectives of history and values.  Some of these films, despite censorship, attempted to provide views of truth--spiritual, social, political, or personal.  Whereas Western filmgoers primarily view movies as entertainment, filmgoers in the East have been more prone to see cinema as a place to discover truth in art.  Attending the right film at the right time could even be considered a spiritual experience.  This may be one reason why, after the lifting of Soviet restrictions, Campus Crusade's "Jesus" film had such an amazing reception when it was first screened in theaters in the East.

A large selection of films from Russia and East Central Europe is available on videotape in the West, providing viewers with important insights into Slavic and East European cultures.  An appreciation for a culture is a great asset in relating to the people of that culture and film can provide a valuable means to that end.  Subtitled films, in addition, are helpful exposure to East European languages.

Pre-Revolutionary Cinema
Thanks to an agreement between Gosfilmofond of Moscow and the British Film Institute, Milestone Film and Video has released a ten-volume series, "Early Russian Cinema," which makes available for the first time in the West a comprehensive overview of Russian film development as it chronicles Russian life and culture prior to the Revolutions of 1917.  The ten subjects treated are:  "Beginnings," "Folklore and Legend," "Starewicz's Fantasies," "Provincial Variations," "Chardynin's Pushkin," "Class Distinctions," "Evgenii Bauer," "Iakov Protazanov," "High Society," and "The End of an Era."  Single videos are $29.95, or $250 for the entire set.  Contact:

Film in the Soviet Era
The Soviet era began as film was in its infancy.  Lenin quickly and eagerly recognized the new art form as a means of communicating Communism to illiterate masses in Russia and worldwide.  Early short studies, most notably those featured in the pre-Revolutionary videotapes now available through Milestone, gave way to longer films.  One of the best known of the early filmmakers was Sergei Eisenstein, celebrated the world over as an innovator and as the creator of montage, the technique of juxtaposing seemingly unrelated scenes as a means of interpretation by association.  Eisenstein, producer of such film classics as "Potemkin" and "October," had a longstanding love-hate relationship with Soviet authorities.  Throughout the Soviet era, filmmakers had greater liberty with prerevolutionary subject matter.  But like writers, some of them also devised ways to use their medium to explore and critique the Communist social and political fabric, sometimes through symbols or parables that would covertly suggest Soviet rule or rulers.  They did so at great professional and personal risk.  Generally, Russian and East European films strike Western viewers as slow-paced and difficult to understand--the very antithesis of popular Hollywood products by Disney or Steven Spielberg.  But even the obscurity of East European film provides a taste of the distinct cultures into which Western travelers will step--a video form of culture shock.

Video Resources
In the West local video rental of foreign-language films can be extremely limited or nonexistent.  Even in major cities, access to the films of the former Soviet Union and East Central Europe can be quite limited.  Other sources include local public and community college libraries and video rentals by mail.  Postal rentals are more expensive than local video store rentals, but the selection is vastly improved.  Two of the best sources for foreign-language videos by mail follow.

Facets Video, which appears to have the largest selection, offers a free Slavic video catalog including Polish, Czech, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Ukrainian, and Hungarian titles with brief descriptions.  Those ordering the master catalog ($14.95) receive bimonthly updates on new and discounted titles, available for purchase or rental.  A basic membership ($25) includes two video rentals, and a critic's membership ($100), 12 rentals. Subsequent rentals are $10 per title.  The current Facets Video Catalog includes a Russian-language learning series, East European documentaries, and feature films by such directors as: Andrei Waida, Jerzy Skolimowski, Krzysztof Zanussi, Agneiszka Holland, and Krzysztof Kieslowski (Polish); Iztvan Szabo (Hungarian); Milos Forman (Czechoslovakian); and Sergei Eisenstein; Elem Klimov, Andrei Konshalovsky, Nikita Mikhalkov, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Dziga Vertov (Russian).  Contact:

Home Film Festival (Home Box Office) does not carry as extensive a selection of titles from the former Soviet Union and East Central Europe in its free catalog, but membership costs are lower ($11 per year) and video rentals run $6 for one, $11 for two, and $16 for three.  All videos are also available for purchase, with a 10 percent discount offered on purchases over $50.  Contact: Movies Unlimited provides videotapes of virtually all feature films available in the United States for purchase only.  Contact: Wil Triggs is director of communications for Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries, Wheaton, IL.

Wil Triggs, "A Picture Window on Russian and East European Life," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 4 (Fall 1996), 11-12.

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1996 Institute for East-West Christian Studies
ISSN 1069-5664

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