The annual Russian Film Symposium returns, now in its 13th year. The six-day symposium, co-presented by the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Filmmakers, begins Mon., May 2, and will offer 12 recent films, to be shown on campus and at the Melwood Screening Room. This year's theme is "Other Russias, Russia's Others: Films in and on the Margins."
As the title suggests, the focus of this year's symposium is on films set outside of Russia's two major cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Symposium organizer Vladimir Padunov, an associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures and associate director of the film-studies program at Pitt, explains this shift. "I think filmmakers have had their fill of the glamorous world of capitalism, the emerging middle class -- and they're beginning to look at other parts of the country."
But not without some controversy. "What tends to be emphasized in such films is the incredible poverty and dilapidation of the countryside," says Padunov. "It's almost as if what they're saying: 'Russia is not Moscow, this is what is there.' It's a kind of exposé, but on the other hand, it's a secret to nobody in Russia that the kind of renovation that's gone on over the last two decades has been limited almost exclusively to the two central cities."
One film, The Stoker, takes place in the area around St. Petersburg, but its titular protagonist is an ethnic Yakut. This, too, is reflective of today's Russia, Padunov stresses. "A huge number of indigenous people from former Soviet republics have moved into Russia to be 'guest workers' -- doormen, cleaners, construction workers. So even when films are set in Moscow or St. Petersburg, the directors have taken an interest in looking at these marginal social and ethnic groupings in the cities."
But for far-flung stories set in very empty places, it's hard to beat the two-man drama, How I Ended This Summer, shot on an Arctic island in the north-east corner of Siberia. That's no Moscow.
Throughout the symposium, eight films will screen during the day in 106 David Lawrence Hall on the University of Pittsburgh campus. See www.rusfilm.pitt.edu/2011/ for the complete schedule.
Four highlighted films will screen at 7:30 p.m. nightly, Wed., May 4, through Sat., May 7.
Melwood Screening Room
477 Melwood Ave., Oakland
All films are in Russian, with English subtitles.