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The Cacophony of Donbas

FIPRESCI Warsaw Critics Project 2018 2018-10-24

Found-footage films have a very specific place in the history of cinema. Using pre-existent material in order to articulate a discourse about the present by referring to the past is as much paradoxical as it (still) is iconoclastic. Igor Minaiev introduces the public to the idea of found footage even from the title – he “found” Dziga Vertov’s ENTHUSIASM: SYMPHONY OF THE DONBAS (1931) and by connecting it to recent events turned it into THE CACOPHONY OF DONBAS. The reasoning behind this title comes in clear focus since the beginning with the apparently omniscient voice-over, deployed as a deconstruction of the Soviet propaganda between the 1930s and the 1990s.

August 31st, 1935: Alexey Stakhanov, a miner who would become a national hero during the propaganda process imposed by the Soviet authorities in order to create a fake public image of the superiority of the socialist worker (the so-called “Stakhanovite movement”), breaks a world record by mining 102 tons in one shift. In the Soviet newsreels it is said that a miner’s salary is between 1500 and 7000 rubles per month, enough for a miner and his family to build a stable life in the USSR. When the miners’ problem with alcohol becomes public, the authorities declare everything under medical control. Minaiev disassembles old myths, propagandistic information and legends by contrasting them with the miners’ strikes from the 1990s. The record behind Alexey Stakhanov was made up, and so was the entire promoting apparatus of the Soviet miner and he eventually would die because of an alcohol-related illness – a series of vox-populi interviews with the miners who took part in the 1990s strikes under the Gorbachev regime show an angry, disappointed and fed-up category of the working class.

Sequences of newsreels, propaganda films, interviews and music videos are pieced together to highlight a certain discrepancy between the propagandistic discourse and the truth. And it’s not only the dramatic conclusions of his essay-like argumentation that is being highlighted by the compilation, but a certain type of humor betraying the ridiculousness of these materials to the contemporary public. The director eventually touches upon the subject of Donbas of the XXI century, but only after a transition between the brief intro to the dollhouse construction of Soviet propaganda and the appearance of more recent footage, namely an interview with the Ukrainian artist Arsen Savadov on his Donbass Chocolate project from 1997. What remains to be said about this considerably larger part of the film is that, even if the voice-over discourse moulds on the semi-academic essay and even if its strongest point is the usage of audio-visual material, Minaiev never actually brings up a source to empower his argument, and never shows any relevant audio-visual proofs that would 100% sustain his counter-propaganda observations.

The actual footage of the recent events from Donbas features interviews with two Ukrainian victims of the Russian separatists and home-movie type footage which presents a couple who organize their wedding as an ode to militarism. Minaiev never draws a socio-political conclusion but more of a romantic one regarding how much hate there is between people and peoples. Nevertheless, the thesis behind the usage of found-footage becomes apparent – after deconstructing and demolishing the roots of Donbas in Russian history, the events from 2014 suddenly seem pointless and unjustifiable, especially when the human element offered by the two Ukrainians is firmly established as the starting point in depicting the horrors of war.

FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project

Lemana Filandra is a writer and editor at "Klifhenger" (www.klifhenger.com), a site dedicated to movie analyses in Bosnian and English. She has been working as a freelance writer, a researcher, and a translator for the last three years. Currently, She is working on a PhD thesis in philosophy, focused on intersectional feminism and political implications of the concept of body. In the past she had different professional engagements at Sarajevo Film Festival, one of the most prominent European festivals. She also worked as a producer of a music video, a script supervisor and an assistant to a movie director.

Levan Tskhovrebadze is a student of film studies in Ilia State University, Georgia. He has written and made other kind of journalistic content for Georgian outlets like Indigo, Cinemania.ge or Demo.ge. Recently he started working for Ilia State University online publication Cinexpress.iliauni.edu.ge where he writes reviews, articles and also translates some of the important articles or interviews about cinema into Georgian. He has covered few festivals as a film critic. He was doing video blogs for Berlin International Film Festival 2019th edition and has made some content at CinéDOC-Tbilisi and Batumi International Art-House Film Festival. Cinexpress is also the Ilia State University’s Film Club where he made public reports before screenings.

Oleksandra Povoroznyk is a film critic and journalist based in Kyiv, Ukraine. She is currently working for Vertigo.com.ua, one of the largest Ukrainian websites devoted to the film industry and entertainment in general. She is also the host of two podcasts about movies and TV.

Denisa Jašová is a PhD student of Audiovisual Studies at Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. As a Film Studies and Archival Science graduate, she specializes on archival research in film and TV history, especially on Czechoslovak amateur film and TV non-fiction programmes from 70s and 80s. She also works as a researcher for TV documentaries, as a librarian in the Central European House of Photography and as a talk show host in student radio talk show called Cinefil. She frequently writes for magazine Film.sk, IFF Cinematik Piešťany and her first paper about the history of Slovak amateur film will be released in October 2019 in Kino-Ikon magazine. She simply loves film archives.

Bogdan Balla is a Romanian experimental film director and freelance film critic based in Bucharest. He studies film directing at the National University of Theatre and Film and writes for FILM MENU. Besides directing and producing his own films, he also works as an independent freelance film critic. He reads bell hooks and is passionate about queer cinema. He has a preference for working with archival footage for his films.

Svetlana Semenchuk is an author of such publications on cinema as “Seanse”, “The Art of Cinema”, “Cinema TV” and other. The author-composer of the books “S. M. Eisenstein: pro et contra: Sergey Eisenstein in national reflection: anthology” and “E. F. Bauer: pro et contra. Eugene Frantsevich Bauer in assessments of contemporaries, colleagues, researchers, film critics. Anthology”. Teacher of the St. Petersburg New Cinema School, and at the St. Petersburg State University of Cinema and Television.

TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project

Amber Wilkinson  is a journalist with more than 20 years experience. She is the co-founder and editorial director of UK-based website Eye For Film. Her byline has appeared in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and Filmmaker Magazine among others. She also contributes as a freelance film critic on BBC Radio Scotland. She has run several FIPRESCI young critics' workshops and mentored student critics at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2018 and 2019.

Tommaso Tocci is based in Italy, where he works as a film critic and translator covering film festivals across Europe for international publications. He has also worked for Berlinale Talents and for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and he currently serves as Co-Programmer for the Saas-Fee Film Festival in Switzerland.