.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

Illuminating Marina Goldovskaya – Film festival Luminaria honored for her life's work

-A A +A
By Roger Snodgrass

Marina Goldovskaya has a problem with Stalin.The Russian filmmaker is now head of the documentary film program at UCLA. She travels back and forth between Los Angeles and Russia with many protgs and projects in the works.In 1987, her cameras were rolling during an extraordinary moment, as freedom dawned to light up the darkest corners of the totalitarian nightmare that gripped her country.Three of her films shown last week in Santa Fe added up to a one-woman truth and reconciliation commission for the fallen soviet empire.The essence of the films is not only the timing and the subject, but also the pitch-perfect way her stories are photographed and composed – with passion, but without acrimony or personal rhetoric.Goldovskaya took many risks within the chaos of the late ‘80s, the Soviet Union began to come apart. In her autobiography, “Woman with a Movie Camera,” she tells about her invitation to join the communist party in 1966, because the party wanted a young woman to participate in the May Day celebration of the State Committee for Television and Radio and she was the youngest of only three female cinematographers.The first of these films was “Solovki Power,” her claim to fame and the one she herself considers the most significant.“It never occurred to me that mine would be the first film about the Gulag, an insidious network of prison camps created by the Bolshevik totalitarian regime after the revolution in 1917,” she wrote. “The film’s title became a metaphor for the criminal regime that created these institutions.”The film exposed the history of atrocities that took place on Solovki Island in a concentration camp for political prisoners installed in a medieval monastery from the time of Ivan the Terrible. Much of it was told in the spoken words of survivors in their 80s and 90s, in the written words of prisoners from a newly discovered cache of crumbling letters, and stock-footage from a propaganda film made to counter rumors about inhumane treatment.When an escaped prisoner wrote a book, “The Island Hell: A Soviet Prison in the Far North,” published in London in 1926, the regime commissioned a filmed visit by the writer Maxim Gorky to calm the scandal. The hospital was emptied and clean sheets were put on the beds. The kitchen had food and the prisoners were shown reading newspapers.The old government newsreel backfired when it angered the peasants who thought prisoners were living better than they were.“After that it was shelved,” said Goldovskaya. “We took it down from the shelf.”One of the survivors in the film says the torture and interrogation that was commonly practiced in the prison made the Spanish Inquisition look like a comic book.Goldovskaya’s documentary was banned for three months at first, and then in a marvelous reversal soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev championed the film as a down payment on truth telling. Hundreds of prints were struck for the whole country to see at once and Goldovskaya became an international celebrity.When she started “Solovki Power” in 1987, Goldovskaya told the audience in a retrospective showing during the Santa Fe Film Festival last week, Mosfilm, the largest studio in the country put up the funds.How she was able to make an anti-soviet film with soviet money will go down in the annals on the pluck of documentary filmmakers.“We submitted a big, 60-page script about history, archeology, religion and art of the Solovki islands,” she said. “In it was one-half page about a prison.”She added, “This was a Russian way. We knew what we could do.”She also knew she might lose her job or go to prison, but she was prepared for the worst.The result was a masterpiece.Goldovskaya’s two other films in the festival, the “House on Arabat Street” (1993) and “The Prince is Back” (2004), were no less remarkable in their way.The “house” is a grand apartment building on major avenue in Moscow that dates to the early years of the 20th century. Once an architectural wonder, the fall of the house becomes a metaphor in Goldovskaya’s film for the fall of the country under the communists. Again, riveting interviews with the aging survivors dominates the narrative that tracks the downfall, as the house becomes an urban slum. From 80 splendid flats housing 200 people, it deteriorated into a hovel for more than 3,000.The “Prince is Back” tells the story of a descendent of a royal family from the time of the Tsars, who returns to claim the overgrown land and bombed-out buildings of his ancestor. Now dirt poor, hauling water from a spring he knew about from family records, he begins rebuilding, with no reason to believe the government will ever grant restitution.He dreams of creating a museum in former mansion that will tell the story of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812.Pounding a pipe, hoping to hit the water table, the prince toward the end of the film hits rock instead.Asked what he will do, his reply is a kind of summary statement for himself, for the Russian people, and – for that matter – for the human spirit, as portrayed in this powerful set of documentaries.“Then I’ll start over – over and over,” he said.Golovskaya was recognized for a lifetime of achievement with one of the Luminaria Awards at the Santa Fe Film Festival. Some 45 films are listed in her filmography.