Take a look at the photo. If you are addicted to documentaries like me you think of Nanook, don’t you? If you have been around for decades like me, you might also think of Estonian master Mark Soosaar, who travelled to Siberia to make his masterpiece ”Father, Son and Holy Torum” about the Khantys and their shamanism. But the smiling man on the photo is a Yakut, from Yakutia, at the very far North West of the Russian Federation. The film is about him, his look at his own life, his look at life in general; he is a hard working man full of a generosity that makes room for a grounded sense of wisdom that he conveys to the audience in an extraordinarily beautiful documentary, that is one of the 8 works competing at the Moscow International Film Festival that runs this thursday included. I have seen only 3 of the 8 so far but this one must be one of the favourites for the best documentary award.
Sergey… I was not given a last name, but it does not matter because you want to be on first name with this man, who loves life – ”life here means work” as he says – and who is able to formulate his love to the horses, the reindeers, to his family, wife and 4 children, and express his concern about who will take over his nomadic kind of work, that he has been doing for 24 Snows – seasons! He follows the herds to where they go, he has, again as he says ”cabins to stay in all over”, we see that, well we see so much from this permafrost region Yakut, in winter and in summer. The camerawork is excellent and the director takes us out where he is alone with the animals and to the village, where the family lives and where he rarely is. And comes along when Sergey travels 700 kilometer with the frozen fish, he has caught with friends at the lake. Or stays discreetly in the background when he kills the horses, he has given names, talking to them with a whispering voice before death is a fact.
Many anthropological studies never get close to its characters. ”24 Snows” deals with the Yakut culture through a temperament, through the charisma of Sergey, who is a man full of a humour that contributes to make the film entertaining. There are joyful scenes with horse racing, there is Sergey with his smallest child, Sergey being an amateur when it comes to get milk out of the cow at home in the village. He is a storyteller – the film uses both voice off and direct sound – and he has himself had a camera in hand, as we are invited to see in stunning b/w footage where he is cleaning horses, who got lost in the wilderness and when found needed to have big ice pieces cut away.
I am normally very much hesitant to music in documentaries but here it is composed/used perfectly to accompany the often mindblowing images.
Hail the horse people, Sergey says, and this is exactly what this rich film does. I don’t remember to have seen anything so engaging from the tundra since Mark Soosaar took his trips. Jean Rouch would have loved it!
Russia, 2016, 90 mins.
PS. I also have seen the French film ”Tomorrow” that is screened in Moscow. It is about our world in global danger – nature, food etc. – and what should be done about it. Filmmakers go out to find out… It must have been selected for the festival because of its subject and not for its film quality.