One of the hot new courses in the Faculty of Arts this winter will use modern film and media to explore today’s Russia – how it was shaped, and the issues that continue to occupy and sometimes confound Russians.
Dr. Frederick White noted that students of Post-Soviet Russian: Media and Film (RUSS 3023) won’t need to speak Russian to appreciate the course as the films are subtitled in English. They will explore the cultural context of the films, informed by Russian historical, political and social discourse.
“The goal is to view these films within a ‘national cinema’ framework, and to confront the contemporary issues that swirl around the world’s largest nation,” Dr. White noted.
“Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian filmmakers refused to construct a bright future or defend spiritual values.” Instead, freed from constraints they chose to focus on the reality surrounding them: beggars and impoverished pensioners, Mafia shootings, economic chaos, the Chechnyan war, and a changing society.
The first film shown will be The Russian Ark. Shot in one continuous take inside the Hermitage Museum, the film takes the audience on a 90 minute walk through 300 years of Russian history.
By the mid-term break, students will have viewed their way through a beleaguered history and into modern social decay.
Many of the films explore issues that, while contemporary, are not new. “We’ll look at films that examine the dichotomy between the ‘Westernizers’ and the ‘Slavophiles.’ Russians have long wondered ‘are we Europeans? Are we Eurasians? Are we Slavs? Or are we simply Russians?’” Dr. White explained.
All films will be screened Monday afternoons (screenings will repeat Wednesday afternoons). Lectures about the films will take place on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Ultimately, the works viewed in the course all raise questions – as visual media do everywhere – about whether cinema has a responsibility to offer reality, or construct an ideal for people to move toward, he said. “Does cinema articulate the reality of contemporary Russian life or is it portraying a grotesque or else an idealized version?”