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 WarsawFipresci2018

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

Călin Boto is a Romanian emergent film critic and the editor-in-chief of Film Menu, a film magazine edited by students of the Film University in National University of Film and Drama in Bucharest (UNATC). He has written articles for several cultural publications such as Dilema Veche,Dissolved Magazine, SUB25 and he coordinates Film Menu’s weekly cineclub. At the moment he’s working on a bachelor's degree on the films and film criticism of Jonas Mekas.

Barbara Majsa was born and raised in Hungary, but currently resides in Sweden and attends Stockholm University for Cinema Studies. She has worked as a journalist since 2009, and has covered several film festivals. Barbara is the managing editor at Cinema Scandinavia, where she interviews film-makers and focuses her work on artistic and cultural products that reflect upon society - films concerning social, societal, economic and political issues.

Yulia Kuzischina is a film journalist, based in Moscow. She studied visual culture at Higher School of Economics and later started to write for two film-related websites, RussoRosso and Kinomania.ru. Currently she also works at a film sales company Ant!pode Sales & Distribution. Her main field of interest is Eastern European cinema.

Tomáš Hudák  is a programmer and a film critic based in Bratislava, Slovakia. Programming at independent cultural centre A4 – Space for contemporary culture, which focus on challenging and experimental art, is his main occupation throughout a year. He is also associated with IFF Cinematik in Pieštany, Bratislava IFF, and Film Festival 4 Elements in Banská Štiavnica. Regularly writing for film magazine Kinečko, his texts also appeared in other publications such as Senses of Cinema, Tess Magazine etc. In past, he worked as a film archivist at Slovak Film Institute and his archival research resulted in two papers on local film history.

Daria Badior is a film critic and a Culture Editor of LB.ua, one of Ukraine’s biggest online newspapers. Focuses on writing about contemporary Ukrainian cinema. Also she co-curates a project on LB.ua named Short-list about young Ukrainian filmmakers. Since 2017 takes part
in selecting films for Kyiv Film Critics Week, a new film festival held at the end of October. A member of FIPRESCI.

Łukasz Mańkowski Half of the Asian Cinema focused blog ‘Referat Filmowy’, Japanese Studies and Film Theory graduate from Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, specializing in Asian Film. Occasionally photographer, translator and theatre-film journalist who simply loves ramen. Previously member of 5 Flavours Film Festival People’s Jury, FEFF Udine Student Campus and EIFF Student Critics Competition.

TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project

Yoana Pavlova is a Bulgarian writer, researcher, and programmer currently based in Paris.Her field of work includes cinema, VR, digital culture, and the New East. She is the foundingeditor of Festivalists.com (a playform for experimental media criticism), with bylines fornumerous print and online publications in Bulgarian, English, and French. Contributor to thefollowing books: Cinemas of Paris (2016, St Andrews Film Studies), Eastern Promises (2014,Festival Internacional de Cine de Donostia – San Sebastián), The Bulgarian Nouvelle Vague(2012, Edno).

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