Sporting a laminated and lanyard-ed visitors pass around my neck, I caught the elevator up to the fifth floor of the Hotel Europa, here in St. Petersburg. The ballroom from which I am writing is the headquarters for the 2011 St. Petersburg International KinoForum, and I have never felt so much like a professional journalist. It’s amazing how a laminated visitors’ pass can make you feel that way. I may never get this opportunity again, so I’m just going to pretend, for the time being, between starting and finishing this blog post, that I’m the professional movie-critic that I feel I am.
On Monday, we met for a “Revolutionary March” which involved walking several miles on the hottest day we’ve had so far, retracing the steps of the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution. We met at a metro station not far from the Smolny Institute, but my mind tracked to one thing as soon as I showed up: the ten lanyards around Sasha’s neck. Maybe a visitors pass doesn’t mean anything, but so far I haven’t had to pay for a ticket, and I haven’t been turned away from any place, so I guess it must be somewhat useful. As I said, pass in hand, I feel like a professional, and I’m milking that feeling for all it’s worth.
So far, I’ve seen three movies and have visited the headquarters for the festival three times. Our first day’s assignment was to obtain a program for the festival, marking the times of all of the showings. Of course, I was not going to let the packet of paper go to waste, and looked up the shows I was interested in seeing. Although I arrived home tired on Tuesday night, the feeling that my time in St. Petersburg is coming to a fast end haunted me, so after dinner, I quickly changed my clothes and literally ran out the door to arrive at the “Rodina” Cinema for an 8.20 showing.
The first movie was a Danish film called “The Truth About Men” (Nikolaj Arcell, 2010). It was a charming film about a man and his insecurities, with the premise that he was a screenwriter and his life was actually a film. The story was what I would call “just your average male-perspective rom-com” but a lot more artistic. You might even say that it was a meta-film, but I don’t want to get too philosophical here. For me, the wonderful thing was the experience of being in a Russian movie theater for the first time, and the irony that I wasn’t seeing a Russian film.
The next day, yesterday, I decided to share the experience with somebody else. Sophie and I made our first excursion to the headquarters yesterday afternoon, followed by a screening of the Polish film “Out of Love” (Ania Jadowska, 2010), again at “Rodina.” Falling on hard times, a couple decides to make a pornographic film to earn some extra money, that ultimately puts their marriage on the line, the film tapped into some really intense themes about love, and what committment means, without being trite. The description of the film, translated from, I imagine, Polish to Russian to English, sounded a lot funnier than the film actually was, but its dark character gave a lot more depth than a comedic version would have been. The irony, however, was that of the eight people in our study abroad group, Sophie and I are the most religious, and ended up being the two watching a film about pornography.
I had high hopes today to see many films; however, I’ve been struck down. I arrived late to a showing of a Russian documentary film called “A Diary from a Burnt Ghetto” (Evgeny Tsymbal, 2010) about a Holocaust survivor from Kaunas. It was Sasha who alerted me to the film, because it was about a Lithuanian girl and her diary. The film, honestly, was the most relevant to my own research, although not to the research I’m conducting here. Rather, it was relevant to the research I conducted this spring semester, about Lithuanian memoirs of Siberian deportation. It was relevant, however, to our projects, because it was a short documentary, only 52 minutes long, and focused on a single girl’s story, through her diary and interviews now. It’s intimidating, since, for our research, we’re trying to fit several (as many as six) interviews into a five minute film.
So far, the KinoForum has been a beyond intersting international experience. To be surrounded by film-fanatic Russians and other international professionals and scholars alike, has been fascinating. When I arrived at the headquarters today, they were conducting a panel about international film education. In the cinema halls, I’ve heard so many languages, and, while I have been forced to press my Russian listening comprehension, I have also been lucky enough to see two films subtitled in English. For those films, Russian viewers had to borrow headsets and listen to dubbing through earphones, making the movie theater buzz with a whispering of Russian translations.
I’m so glad that I was given the opportunity to come to this forum and experience just how important cinema is to Russians. Through this program, I’ve been constantly surrounded by cinema ideas, about our research, and the movie theater project. The importance of cinema in this country resonates not only in the movie theaters, but in every aspect of life. To witness this, as a student, or as an imaginary professional film blogger, is certainly something to stumble upon, and turns my gaze to yet another potential career path. Who knows?
Read more about my adventures at monikawithak.blogspot.com!