In this year’s documentary program the films have one theme in common – the presentation of the everyday life of common people, their problems, family relations and the peculiarities of cultural communities to which they belong.
The only exception is probably the great Russian poet, who became the main character of the film “Pushkin’s Italy” written by the prominent Russian historian Victor Listov. This time the director Galina Evtushenko, who is interested in the theme of intellectual and spiritual parallels (she has made movies about Meyerhold and Eisenstein, Tolstoy and Ghandi), turns her attention to the influence of Italian culture on Pushkin’s work, who never left Russia, as is well known.
The life of modern Italian provinces is shown in the film by Federica di Giacomo “Liberami”, which won the main prize of one of the programs of the Venice Film Festival “Horizons” in 2016 and this year was nominated for the prize of the European Film Academy. The story of modern exorcism practices is a nice example of documentary cinema and its attempts at objectivity and neutrality. In the opinion of certain critics it was an anti-clerical film, the most questionable part being exorcism over the phone. At the same time the main character father Cotaldo and people who seek his assistance on the brink of despair are depicted with compassion, while the thundering night disco with red and green glowing lights is reminiscent of the traditional representations of hell.
The villagers in a small Bulgarian settlement near the border with Turkey (the movie “The Good Postman”, Tonislav Hristov) are anxious about the flow of illegal immigrants who are refugees from Syria. The local postman is running for Mayor and in his election program he proposes to officially invite the refugees to revive the demographic situation in the dying village. His ideological opponents are nostalgic about the socialist past and communist ideals except for the idea of friendship among nations: there is no place for refugees here. The topical questions of frontier territories are close to anyone facing the choice of either going back into the past or opening up to the future.
“Third-class Travel” by Rodion Ismailov limits the community of his characters even further: we are in the company of the passengers of one carriage. At the same time the geography of the narrative is extended: the train goes all across Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok. Along the way the passengers cross the time border and welcome the New year to the accompaniment of guitar strumming and train talks.
“Two Generations Back Home” by Asiyat Mamayeva is devoted to the 60th anniversary of the Karachaev people’s return from exile. The key element of the movie is not so much historical documents and documentary footage as the evidence provided by witnesses who relate their family stories, their emotions, tragedies and victories.
On the contrary, in Rahul Jain’s “Machines” people say very little. The camera focuses its gaze on the machines at the textile factory. There are so many machines in the frame that people seem almost subordinate to them in the technological process. The creative process of staging a production about the queen Semiramida who falls in love with the Armenian king, or rather about the actress and the choreographer working at those characters is the topic of the movie “Pro Shamiram” by Mariam Oganian.
Piotr Stasik’s narration about one of the most interesting cities of the world “21х New York” also begins with a limitation: the author watches passengers of the subway and follows some of them to the surface to give their more detailed story.
Attention to the problems of the contemporary society is by definition the task of documentary cinema. Turning their attention to strange, curious, tragic private stories the authors raise the questions of faith, loneliness, patriotism, love and joy of human communication. The general is revealed through particular cases and the more convincing the story is in its details and particulars the more articulate and convincing evidence of modern times the films provide.