Dmitry Bogolubov: The Wall

At the Jihlava Intl. FF they have a fine tradition that has been picked up by other festivals: to have a one man/woman jury for one of the competitive sections, the Opus Bonum.

Legendary filmmaker from Latvia Laila Pakalnina was the one to choose this year according to this rule (quote from the festival site): … an outstanding documentary film of the year from a diverse collection representing tendencies in world documentary; since all of the films are significant, the festival suggest the following game; a single juror picks a single film, a “brilliant” work…

The Best World Documentary Film 2017 was – according to Pakalnina: ”The Wall” by Dmitry Bogolubov. Motivation: ”For using the film language to express the inexpressible. For Film”.

The synopsis goes like this: ”The Stalin Cult is once again gaining

in strength in Russia. Every December 21st, the former Communist leader’s admirers gather to honor him on Red Square, at the site of his grave in the Kremlin Wall. In this observational documentary, the Russian director introduces the principle of “walking heads” – the majority of the footage consists of long takes showing the faces of the people waiting in line to place flowers and pay homage in front of a bust of Stalin. Accompanied by the sound of shuffling feet, a representative sample of various human types parades in front of our eyes, their faces reflecting almost a sacred reverence for a man who was responsible for the murder of several millions of their fellow citizens.”

And the director’s note to his film: “Imagine thousands of Jews praying to Hitler’s grave. Impossible? How people can worship the one who annihilated them? In modern Russia we can witness a similar paradox.”

Does it work this observation of people, who come with flowers to the mass murderer? In 43 minutes, no commentary, pure observation of faces, old people mostly, close-ups, only once a young man addresses one single person, who protests against the hommage: ”… those who do not respect Stalin, should die…”

I felt a bit like when I watched ”Austerlitz” by Loznitsa ( It is challenging aesthetic approach, you have to ”get into it” before it works for you, these ”walking heads”. And you think why and who are they, what are their stories, why are so much linked to the past, what does that say about the present Russian society, now this year, 100 years after the revolution? And I think about what I read in Svetlana Alexievich’s documentary books ( about ”Homo Sovjeticus”.

I could identify one person in the crowd, Gennady Zuganov, who has been the general secretary of the Communist Party since 1993.

The British journalist Nick Holdsworth has written a fine review of the film, link below, on DOK Revue, one af many fine initiatives of the Czech festival. He praises the camera work of Vladimir Kuleshov, I agree totally.

Russia, 2017, 43 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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