Message2Man National Competition

I came to M2M for Russian documentaries and have so far been watching 16 of the 23 in the ”National Competition of Documentary Films” in the Velikan cinema number 4 – good seats, almost full house for all screenings. With people walking in and out of the cinema, some even come for the last five minutes (!), quite disturbing, writes a grumpy man, who thinks respect for the filmmakers and their works is important. Do your zapping from one channel to the other at home in front of the television set. Not in the cinema, please!

The selection of films this year, one more reason to be grumpy, sorry, is pretty weak. Does this really qualify for a national competition I have asked myself several times. Is this an image of the general quality of Russian documentaries today? Or do other festival in Russia take the best?

The selectors show it already – a quote from the catalogue: The topics of the films vary widely, but of course include some of the favorite themes of Russian documentaries: village elders and city eccentrics, simple Russian workers and lonely philosophers, parents and children, children and school, a bit of politics, a bit of war…The National Competition always tries to embrace as many sides of our daily life as possible and show what surrounds us, whether hidden or obvious…

Themes are mentioned but no artistic criteria, for obvious reasons, as most of

the films I have seen are quite ordinary in narrative terms with bad editing and medium quality cinematography. I asked some Russian filmmakers why editing seems to be such a problem in Russian documentaries. The answer was that there are no teaching in editing and that the directors want to do the editing themselves: ”Keep your fingers away from my work”.

Yesterday at a lecture at the university I mentioned that 20 years ago – at the Balticum Film & TV Festival on Bornholm in Denmark – the filmmakers from Russia and the Baltic states said that an editor in their world was one with technical skills, not necessarily one with a creative function. A filmmakers at the university confirmed that this is still the case! At the university I also asked the 200 students, what they were aiming for. Most of them raised their hand for fiction films, 10-15 for documentary, and ONE wanted to become a producer. Yes, producers, how many are there in Russia or should I ask, how is the profession considered? Several have said to me ”a producer’s job is to bring money to the table”, they listen with respect, when I say ”… and to be the partner of the director, to be constructive and critical, to be involved”.

The films in this first report, that is the one with critical remarks, as I will get back in the second one to the few titles that have quality: ”The Conversation” (Anastasia Novikova) (PHOTO), short film school film about lonely man with mobile phone trying to get in contact with his wife in the hospital, nice but could have been shorter than the 22 mins. it is. ”Swimmers” (Kristina Paustian), different stylistical elements, a narrative mess, psychedelic, super-pretentious. ”Rebalda” (Elena Otrepieva), a visit to Solovki, where camps have been and people with criminal records still live, interesting it could have been, but the editing destroys it all. As does the bombastic music. ”The Countryman” (Anastasia Zverkova), black man in Irkutsk, tram driver and weather man on tv, he is sympathetic, the duration of 15 mins, is sympathetic, no big objections but at a National Competition, the best of the best… ”Grumant. Island of Communism” (Ivan Tverdovsky) (54 mins.), I might not have understood it totally, this film from Svalbard, made in an old-fashioned propaganda style, history and today, confusing…”Everyday Life of an Usual Peasant” (Ekaterina Dorofeeva) is sweet, as the protagonist is sweet. She lives half of the year alone in nature with her animals, the other half husband and son are there to help her with tourism. But again, sorry, poor story building, could have been so much better. As could ”Maria’s Home” (Alexei Lagerev), a sympathetic visit to a place for disabled, you can only have sympathy with the project and the people but as a film, maybe fine as a tv-documentary, will have an audience. ”Way to Charon” (Yury Manusov) is an insult to the audience, close-ups of dead Ukrainian soldiers being picked up by Russian soldiers, 10 minutes of disgusting reportage material wrapped in some philosophical comments in the beginning and end. Finally, ”Tsurtsula” (Alexei Nikolayev) has indeed production value but I don’t get why the director want us to be interested in going with him to Mongolia to a deserted Soviet military camp, where Mongolian soldier are based now. A nostalgic trip for the director, but what does he want to say? What is the message to Man?

I read that the three men jury consists of one film critic and two philosophers, interesting to know what they can take from the selection!



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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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