Russia is a huge market that is largely self-sufficient and so news about its considerably more diverse documentary life are usually scarce. The following three Russian-themed notes suggest that Just Do It, the slogan of our 2012 East Doc Platform, may well have been invented in Russia.
In an interview for IDF in summer 2011, Vitaly Manskiy commented on the dismal situation of Russian broadcasting: "If the film is 44 minutes long, then there must be 38 minutes of voice-over, not less. A maximum pause without voice-over is 15 seconds. So that's the general documentary production." The hopeless conditions in the Russian federal TV network fueled the impression that the only enlightened perspective on documentary films is located in Europe and its culture channel ARTE, along with many professionals who fight to keep docs in the programming of public broadcasters across Europe. This stereotype that has recently been somewhat shattered by documentary production funded and aired by HBO, may now get erased for good. On 5 October 2011, the documentary channel 24 Dok was launched in Russia, airing a constant stream of Russian and international docs. It should be stressed that it really is a 24/7 documentary broadcast, not journalistic news programming. This private cable network headed by Vera Krichevska is available to 4 million viewers in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Its strands include RassiaDok for local films, ArtDok for arts and culture, EkoDok for environmental subjects, InoDok for Russia-related docs by international filmmakers, LjudiDok for human interest stories, and PolitDok for current political topics in Russia and elsewhere. If this summary looks too good to be true, a quick glance at the list of films aired since October will prove you wrong - The Revolution That Wasn't by Aliona Polunina, films by Sergei Loznitsa and Vitaly Manskiy, and a number of films that in the past appeared only at Manskiy's Artdokfest.
According to common belief, documentary filmmakers should work with a producer, one who is experienced, established and specialized. And according to most, documentary film and theatre have at best indifferent relationship. Both of these ideas get debunked by the remarkable theatre company Teatr.doc. that's behind the phenomenon of Russian documentary theatre. Teatr.doc handles the concept of documentary art in strictly theatre-specific devices and next to its main activities, it provides support to selected documentary projects. It was founded in 2002 as an independent collective by a group of Russian playwrights and it works largely on volunteer basis and openness to anyone who wants to pitch in. Teatr.doc's progressive performances are based on authentic texts, interviews, documents and stories of real people and blur the boundaries between art and social analysis. It is precisely the political and civic engagement that has made Russian documentary theatre so famous and inspiring. For many young Russians it serves as a true and raw reflection of contemporary Russia and more and more people get involved in its activities that don't require too much resources. Over the past few years, Teatr.doc has made forays into documentary film, supporting Pavel Kostomarov's early films, countless first and short films by young filmmakers. Incidentally, Archa Theatre - one of East Doc Platform's venues - presented several weeks ago Teatr.Doc's internationally acclaimed performance Two in Your House that focuses on the house arrest of Uladzimir Niaklajeu, a Belarusian poet and a presidential candidate in the 2010 election.
Marina Razbezhkina School*
When talking about Russian film school, the legendary VGIK immediately comes to mind. Since 2008, however, Russian documentary film has been fueled by an entirely different force. Marina Razbezhkina, a Russian documentary filmmaker whose films have won countless festival awards, no longer wanted to go along with the rigidity of traditional Russian film schools and so in 2008 she established her own. Instead of using conventional methods, she gave students access to some of the most progressive approaches and filmmaking influences even outside Russia. The programme includes documentary directing, a variety of standard filmmaking specializations, as well as management, creative producing, and even documentary theatre. The school also allowed unique and inspiring encounters of lecturers, for instance, Ms Razbezhkina and Mikhail Ugarov, artistic director of Teatr.doc. Over the past four years it has raised a lot of interest for documentary film among young people, fostering a new generation of Russian filmmakers who are successful at international festivals. Some of them are attending the East Doc Platform. But not all bold activities have a long life. Ms Razbezhkina has confirmed that she decided to leave the High School of Economics that until now housed her documentary school. She said that her school was far too alive to exist within the rigid educational system set by the state. Coexistence with a system that prevents change is dangerous and settling for bad conditions is not a long-term solution. As she added: "You run the risk of becoming the same monster as the other creative institutions in the country." Ms Razbezhkina will not close her school but will most likely open it again later this year. Negotiations are underway with new partners for a new location. Plans for the new school include, apart from the usual documentary filmmaking course, also an advanced course for those who already have a project and want to know more about how to go all the way - from application to (international) distribution.
*Thanks to filmmaker Daria Khlestkina who contributed updates from Russia.