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Introduction by Robert Bird, Associate Professor, Departments of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Cinema and Media Studies.
In 1967 Chris Marker happened upon Aleksandr Medvedkin’s 1935 film satire Happiness and discovered for the world a lost giant of the Soviet cinema. Further research into Medvedkin’s work led Marker to the “film-train” that Medvedkin had conducted for a time in 1933-1934, in the heady days of the rapid industrialization and collectivization. The thoughtful, inventive and humorous political films of Medvedkin and his comrades not only proved consonant to Marker’s own practice as a film-essayist, but also provided a powerful impulse for Marker’s efforts to encourage insurgent filmmaking at the grass-roots level. Featuring several films that have rarely, if ever, been shown in the United States, this screening series explores a friendship between filmmakers, exemplifying the powerful yet tenuous intimacy that becomes possible when technological media are adopted for the international struggle for social justice.
Part II of the series is set in the 1960s when Medvedkin turned to the international situation, especially the tension between capitalist imperialism and national liberation struggles in Africa and Asia, using his wit and visual intelligence to put a human face on Soviet policy. But is it enough to maintain a dialogue with Marker's very different treatments of the same issues?
Law of Baseness (Zakon podlosti)
(Aleksandr Medvedkin, 1962, DVD, 50 min, subtitled)
An analysis of de-colonization in Africa, focusing on the efforts of the Soviet Union to combat capitalist imperialism throughout Africa, but with a particular focus on the Congo in the wake of Patrice Lumumba’s assassination.
Forced Friendship (Druzhba so vzlomom)
(Aleksandr Medvedkin, 1965, DVD, 50 min, subtitled)
Medvedkin's most stinging analysis of the evils of US capitalism and imperialism at home and abroad, from Indochina to South America. Subtitled A Pamphlet, the film showcases Medvedkin's incisive interrogation of still photography and his inventive deployment of animation and found footage. (Look for the depictions of American youth, including students of the University of Chicago.) The score is by experimental composer Edison Denisov.
The Sixth Side of the Pentagon
(Chris Marker, 1967, Digibeta from 16mm, 26 min)
In 1967 a group of protesters “symbolically, quite symbolically” storm the Pentagon. Chris Marker was among them.
Letter to a Chinese Friend (Pis’mo kitaiskomu drugu)
(Aleksandr Medvedkin, 1969, DVD, 10 min, subtitled)
After the break between Mao and Khrushchev, Medvedkin devoted several films to China’s perceived betrayal of Communist internationalism. This is the shortest and most intimate, the filmmaker’s personal appeal to the comrade with whom he was depicted marching on a poster extolling Sino-Soviet friendship.
The Embassy (L’Ambassade)
(Chris Marker, 1971, Digibeta from Super 8, 21 min)
While much of Marker’s work defies clear definition as documentary or fiction, in The Embassy the balance tips in favor of the latter; indeed, the film explicitly hearkens back to Marker’s masterpiece La Jettée. Nonetheless the director does not let up in his analysis of international political events as matters of intimate concern, or in his inquiry into the means by which political action is recorded and rendered as history.
Films courtesy of Moscow Film Archive and Icarus Films.
This film series is part of The Soviet Art Experience, a Chicago-wide showcase exploring the arts of the Soviet Union, in conjunction with The Smart Museum’s exhibition Vision and Communism and Professors Robert Bird and Matthew Jesse Jackson's seminar Vision and Communism at the Franke Institute's Center for Disciplinary Innovation.