It is shortly after the 2009 edition of Kinotavr – the Russian national film festival in Sochi, and during the IFF in Moscow when I browse internet pages about the Russian film industry and come across the news that the prestigious film magazine Iskusstvo Kino has received an ultimatum to leave its premises. Initially within two days, later this deadline is shifted to the 31st of July 2009.
I start to research even more, as this new fact reminds me of a similar problem that occurred in Moscow a few years ago: the problem of Moscow's Musei Kino (Film museum). In 2004, when visiting Moscow with IFFR director Simon Field, we met with the renowned film critic and curator of Sergei Eisenstein's museum as well as director of Musei Kino, Naum Kleiman. While visiting the Eisenstein museum in a block of flats somewhere in Moscow, run by Mr Kleiman with passion and love, we became aware of his worries about the future of the film museum. The Museum curators were given an ultimatum as well and had to leave their own premises where they had been working for the last twenty years. It remained a mystery to us who actually issued the ultimatum. Was it a political decision, or was it a power game?
It seems to me now that the location of the premises of both institutions attracted a great deal of interest from new capitalists in Russia. Who gives orders for this? Why the official parties agree with such orders is really incomprehensible. The fact remains that the two most important cultural institutions were being jeopardised.
Most influential expert publication on cinema in Russia
The film magazine Iskusstvo Kino was founded in 1931 and is considered, together with the British Sight & Sound and the French Cahiers du Cinema, to be one the oldest European monthly publications devoted exclusively to film theory and film criticism. It is also the most influential expert publication on cinema in Russia and the ex-Soviet Union territories. The magazine occupied the offices designed for it in 1963 by a special decree of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and was now given an order to leave those premises, while all the other companies located in the building are allowed to remain there.
Iskusstvo Kino is always present at all the major European film festivals: from Berlin and Cannes to Venice and Locarno. It is very well known to the IFFR too and has maintained a very good professional link with our festival since the early nineties, when the Russian borders were opened and journalists were able to travel more or less freely. The correspondents of the magazine have been visiting Rotterdam and have regularly published reviews of Rotterdam premieres and professional reports about the festival.
Can the current situation really mean that the magazine will eventually cease to exist?
Quality of screenings suffering
In the meantime, Musei Kino is fighting for survival and, as I have read in an interview with Naum Kleiman, it might even have some fresh hope of getting new premises, if everything goes well. Twenty minutes by metro from downtown Moscow, but still… the cinephiles will find their way – the most important issue is the preservation of all the collections of the museum and good facilities for film screenings as well as special exhibitions. At the moment, the collections have found shelter on the premises of the Mosfilm studios, thanks to the enlightened understanding of the problem by its general director, film maker Karen Shakhnazarov. Film screenings as well as exhibitions are being organised elsewhere. The quality of the screening is suffering, as currently modern Moscow cinemas don't have the facilities for screening old films that the film museum used to have.
But when comparing the situation of the two nationally and internationally renowned institutions, Musei Kino was in a much stronger position than the one Iskusstvo Kino magazine finds itself in at present. At the time, articles in support of Musei Kino appeared on the FIPRESCI pages, and many petitions and letters were written and signed. At the height of the ‘battle for Musei Kino’ over 6,000 people signed a petition to the government pleading to save the Moscow Cinematheque, demonstrations and meetings were held and some prominent film makers from around the world – Bernardo Bertolucci, Quentin Tarantino, the Dardenne brothers among them – joined the campaign to support the Museum and its director, Naum Kleiman. Sadly, the battle was lost, the institution of the film museum, as known and admired by many for so many years, has almost vanished. Cinema is the only art that doesn’t have its own museum in contemporary Russia, nevertheless the necessity of Musei Kino is strongly supported by the general public and by film lovers, joint in an organisation called ‘Friends of Musei Kino’, who are ready to defend the future of this unique institution.
In spite of the obvious similarities between the situation with the Film Museum in 2004-2005 and the current difficulties facing the Iskusstvo Kino magazine, the public opinion in Russia does not seem to be particularly concerned about the latter issue. As the magazine’s editor-in-chief Daniil Dondurey said in an interview to Radio Liberty some days ago: ‘I have not yet received a single phone call from our politicians or culture officials’. Dondurey also pointed out that apart from a group of Russian film critics who have voiced their concern, the rest of the Russian film community remains silent. ‘People are either scared of something, or they think that under the new system of management in our Film Makers' Union everyone has to look after their own interests only…” – said Daniil Dondurey.
As I read later, on the pages of newsru.com, the whole issue of Kino Iskusstvo might have been caused by the fact that Daniil Dondurey, during the last elections for the post of the Russian Film Makers' Union president in December 2008, voted for Sergei Michalkov’s opponent Marlen Khutsiev. Shouldn't these elections in future be confidential, just like political elections, to avoid personal battles at the cost of public interest and above all try to preserve the rich and wonderful cultural heritage Russia posseses?