Saturday, January 16, 2010

Four shorts by young Russian filmmakers premier in NYC -- then head for Sundance

Want to check out up-and-coming Russian movie-makers?  Here's your chance.  Four of this breed will introduce his or her new short film this Thursday evening, January 21, 7:30pm, at the Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick Street in NYC. (There'll be a $5 suggested donation requested at the door.)

A presentation of CEC ArtsLink (the filmmakers' visit is being hosted jointly by CEC ArtsLink and the Sundance Film Festival), this four-film screening will also offer a Q&A with the filmmakers after their work has screened. (The entire running time of the four films is 73 minutes, and if the Q&A's last a quarter-hour each, figure this as an approximately two-hour-long program.)

Immediately after the North American premier screening in New York, the filmmakers will head out to Park City, Utah, for a program of industry networking events at the Sundance Film Festival. Their US visit is part of the Open World Cultural Leaders Program, whose aim is to promote cross-cultural understanding through professional exchange. While in New York City and at Sundance, the filmmakers will attend industry events, meet with their US counterparts, and partake in a range of cultural activities. The purpose of CEC Arts-
Link, according t its press release, is to create constructive relation-
ships in the arts between the United States and Eastern and Central Europe, Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Working with artists, arts organizations and community-based groups, CEC ArtsLink provides an essential structure for ongoing dialogue.

Now to the films: Three of them last around 20 minutes and the fourth runs only eight. All are worth seeing and each shows distinct possibilities for a filmic future for its creator. The most "complete" of the four, I would say, is THE BOSS (a still from which is shown above), written and directed by Yuri Bykov.  Beautifully filmed in crisp, rich black-and-white, Bykov offer what initially looks like a Funny Games spin-off -- but with the power placed a little differently.  At the film's beginning, we watch what looks like a typically happy, middle-class nuclear family, with dad and son playing soccer in the backyard and mom sweetly nattering about being careful.  By the end, our perceptions -- not to mention our allegiance -- has shifted noticeably.  In a very short time, Bykov has given us one of the tightest and most disturbing looks at modern Russia and its power structure that I have seen.

The Russian male's love of mother is given a good workout in Ilya Kazankov's MOM (shown above), a 21-minute hymn to mama. Here, a choir conductress is about to lead her Naval Academy boys in a program put together to please the big brass. Two young fellows who should be performing have other ideas -- which they carry out in not-so-smart fashion and which lead to one instance after another of mother-love, shown about as sweetly as you can imagine. This is a very "Russian" film in the most traditional, old-
fashioned manner, and it works like a charm. By the finale, it's clear that the "boys"  here, young and old alike, will always love mom.

At only eight minutes long, BOULEVARD (above), directed by Alisa Khmelnitskaya, is actually the best of the bunch: swift, smart, funny and real, as its shows us the conversation on a park bench along a large boulevard between a depressed older woman and an energetic young girl. They're both waiting for their guys, late as usual, to show up, and their varied responses to the situation and to each other speak volumes. The war between men and women has seldom been seen to such smart effect. Before it's over, this short film offers surprise, change, humor, feeling -- even wisdom.

The only disappointment, for me, was the longest of the films (at 23 minutes), THE GUST OF WIND, directed by Ekaterina Telegina. This one certainly looks good -- and has picked up a couple of awards along the way: Special mention for excellence in cinematography, 2009 Kinotavr Film Festival (Sochi); People’s Choice Award and special jury mention, ARTkino Russian Festival of Art Films -- and it offers the most complex structure of any of the four films. At its opening and close, young children tells us what they want to do with their lives. Then we cut to an adult driving along in his car and see just what this guy has managed to do with his life. In quick succession, we meet his co-worker, his kid, his ex, his new girlfriend and his best friend. We get flashbacks, fantasy, and even -- suddenly -- a Headless Woman moment. Then the Furies arrive in the form of sexy twins (shown above, with our "hero") and finally an ironic surprise. It's all here, but somehow it seems an awfully lot like standard movie-making that uses "experimental" tricks we've now seen time and again to tell a tired tale of personal failure.
But, as I say, it looks good.

If you want to see these films, Tribeca Cinemas, Thursday, January 21 at 7:30 pm would seem to be your best -- maybe only -- bet.  But as seats are filling up quickly, I am told, you will need to RSVP to Anna Kadysheva-Yong (email address:

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