Cinemasaurus: Teaching Recent Russian Cinema

This month, we are pleased to release Cinemasaurus: Russian Film in Contemporary Context, edited by Nancy Condee, Alexander Prokhorov, and Elena Prokhorova.

Cinemasaurus examines contemporary Russian cinema as a new visual economy, emerging over three decades after the Soviet collapse.  Focusing on debates and films exhibited at Russian and US public festivals where the films have premiered, the volume’s contributors—the new generation of US scholars studying Russian cinema—examine four issues of Russia’s transition: (1) its imperial legacy, (2) the emergence of a film market and its new genres, (3) Russia’s uneven integration into European values and hierarchies, (4) the renegotiation of state power vis-à-vis arthouse and independent cinemas.  An introductory essay frames each of the four sections, with 90 films total under discussion, concluding with a historical timeline and five interviews of key film-industry figures formative of the historical context.

Cinemasaurus was created with students in mind and can be used in both undergraduate and graduate classrooms. It contains 45 color photos with stills from the films discussed.

The editors have created two sample syllabi—one for an undergraduate course and one for a graduate course—using Cinemasaurus as a guide, complete with films and where they can be found legally online. The syllabi can be viewed in HTML format with movie clips and trailers, and can be downloaded as Word documents via their respective pages.

One of the many valuable features of this text is the collection of interviews with film industry professionals included at the end of the book. See below for an excerpt from Cinemasaurus: an interview between the editors and Alexander Rodnyansky, CEO of AR Films, Non-Stop Production.

The Mediascape

Interview with Alexander Rodnyansky (CEO, AR Films, Non-Stop Production)

In 2017, Variety named you among the 500 “most influential business leaders in the global entertainment industry.” No one (except perhaps Timur Bekmambetov) has worked so effectively in a global market. Has the profession of media leader reached the historical moment when the young executive must be trained on a transregional scale in order to survive? Is “school” an archaic concept?

Absolutely not. I would say that the opposite is true: to be truly global you have to be as local as possible. The global market today is driven by local content that achieves international success not because it was engineered to be transregional, but rather because it grew from a very personal experience of someone who can share his story with the world in a way that is both reflective of his culture and relatable to people around the globe. That is the trick, and you can’t really teach it. On the other hand, if you try to be global you will most certainly fail.

You have written (IndieWire and Vedomosti) that the US viewer seeks authentic social issues, whereas the Russian viewer more often prefers fantasy. But the United States is the Land of Hollywood, a place where inauthenticity and sugar coating are historically what our cinema does best. Is the US viewer maturing, or are you too “severe” toward your own (Russian) compatriots?

The tradition of both Hollywood and Soviet cinema was founded on bringing reality to the screen, trying to reflect on the state of the world and human nature. And both industries, when it was appropriate, sugarcoated reality for mass consumption, but the true art still existed. In modern Russia, this tradition is still mostly absent, as the Russian mass audience prefers escapism to honest conversations. If you believe that cinema has a certain therapeutic function—it diagnoses the problems and offers the audience a chance to talk about them, to think—then our contemporary audience is a patient who refuses to see the doctor. Having said that, I would add that, as an older audience flocks to Russian film theaters, we start to see how modern, serious Russian drama gains more and more popularity—still on the fringes of the industry, and in no way in competition with mainstream genre, but there is growth as reflected by the box office.

It was difficult to predict (in the early 1990s) that Kinotavr would become the leading regional festival. But what were its key moments of crisis? Were its most serious crises external to the festival (for example, 1998 or 2008) or internal to its identity as a festival?

During the 1990s, Kinotavr was a festival whose main function was to promote rare Russian films made during that time, to make the audience aware of their existence before they were released on VHS. There was no theatrical industry and no other way of distribution. The festival was an event mainly because of the Soviet stars who attended it, and it was the only place where you were able to see Russian films on the big screen. It all changed when Titanic was released and when the Russian theatrical industry began taking shape and growing. Soon Russian films were again released theatrically and—in this new reality—I decided to change the focus of the festival and make it national. It was, so to speak, a full-service agency for blooming talent: young directors would debut with their short films, would come back with their first features, and a few years later would win the best prize of the festival. Hundreds of reporters from every possible media attend the festival every year, and in terms of positive marketing, this has had a tremendous effect on every film screened. But it is also a place where new talent is discovered, and important issues of our contemporary life are discussed and analyzed in film. External economic events have affected us, but only in a limited financial way: they never affected our core ideas or concepts.

Cinemasaurus is available for purchase here and wherever books are sold. You can request an exam copy here.