Russian Resurrection Film Festival 2015

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By Rev. Mfufu Zambezi-Raskladushkin

 

For the 12th time the Russian Film Festival rolled out its cinematic presentations across Australia and New Zealand, highlighting (arguably) the best movies produced by Russian filmmakers in the last 12 months, as well as featuring evergreen classics of Russian cinematheque from yesteryears. The 2015 showcased 18 films, including romantic comedies, dramas, animated features, psychological thrillers, and teen flicks. However the emphasis of this year’s Festival was on one important topic.

This year Russia commemorated the 70th Anniversary of a Victory in a Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). The 9th of May is the only truly sacred National Remembrance Day firmly imprinted in a collective and individual memories and consciousness of the people. Almost every single family experienced personal loss during this horrific historical event. 27 Million lives were sacrificed in the fight for survival of the nation, for preservation of values (however flawed, as history revealed), for all humanity in order to defeat Nazi invaders.

Festival titles such as Battle For Sevastopol, Dawns Are Quiet Here (remake of a famous 1972 Rostotzki movie), and Road To Berlin present viewers with authentically depicted characters, involved in horrific historical events, in situations when every decision could result in a fatal outcome. The central line is a question of maintaining humanistic values even under the harshest of circumstances. Even when murder by order is a necessary action for national and self preservation, when self-sacrifice for survival of comrades is a split-second decision. Moral dilemmas dominate plot development lines of these films and show the war from participants’ perspectives in all its complexity.

I attended Melbourne’s opening night as a guest of festival organisers. The event was hosted by ACMI and has appeared to be popular with those interested in Russian language and culture, as well as with members of the local Russian community. There was a warm address – delivered by the festival’s director – and a welcoming speech from a Victorian Special Minister of State Hon. Gavin Jennings. It was emphasised that, in the current uneasy stage of Russo-Australian relationships, it is imperative to maintain all available connections and exchanges in order to keep dialogue and promote understanding. And this festival is a small, but very important, cultural link in this chain of relations.

The feature movie was a tribute to a little-known event from a different era of Russian History – the epoch rarely addressed by modern Russian cinematographers –World War One. This period gave impetus to one of the most tragic events of the 20th Century, the Bolshevik Revolution. In spring 1917, the Tsarist Regime collapsed and Emperor Nicholas the 2nd abdicated from the Throne, passing the power to a civil provisional government. As a member of the Allied Powers (which included the British Empire amongst others and, by proxy, Australia), new Russia desperately tried to hold positions on the German Front, while internally struggling with the threat of Bolshevik appraisal. It was a time of chaos, deserters and soldiers’ committees – seminal conduits of an upcoming social order. Nobody wanted to fight anymore, since apparently there was nothing to defend. One of the last desperate attempts of a provisional government, to initially shame and eventually inspire frontline male troops to fight for “Mother Russia”, was the creation of female battalions or, as they were dramatically coined, “Battalions Of Death”. This initiative could not and did not help. Nascent Russian democracy will be dismembered and 74 years of totalitarianism engulfed the nation. Director Dmitriy Meshiev and his crew explore heroic exploits of one of the military formations in detail.

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