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
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,
It seems to me that art is called to express the absolute
freedom of man's spiritual potential. I think that art was always
man's weapon against the material things which threatened to devour his
spirit. It is no accident that in the course of nearly two
thousand years of Christianity, art developed for a very long time in
the context of religious ideas and goals. Its very existence kept
alive in discordant humanity the idea of harmony. (Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1991, 237-38).
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
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.
Milestone Film and Video
Film in the Soviet Era
275 West 96th St., Suite 28C
New York, NY 10025
Tel: 212-865-7449; fax: 212-222-8952
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.
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
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:
1517 West Fullerton Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
Tel: 800-331-6197; or 312-282-9075
Home Film Festival
Movies Unlimited provides
videotapes of virtually all feature films available in the United
States for purchase only. Contact:
Box 2032, Scranton, PA 18501
Tel: 800-258-3456; fax: 717-344-3810
Wil Triggs is director of communications for Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries, Wheaton, IL.
6376 Castor Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19149-2184
Tel: 800-4MOVIES; fax: 215-725-3683
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
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