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What's Left? A Century in Revolution

Tyneside Cinema and Durham University (in association with Cross-Language Dynamics (OWRI) and supported by the AHRC) presented a special programme of film, visual art and discussions to mark the occasion of the centenary of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The programme ran at the Tyneside from Friday 29 September to Sunday 8 October 2017. Curated by the Durham OWRI team, with Dušan Radunović as lead curator, together with Úna Henry, as curator on behalf of Tyneside Cinema.

A presentation of the programme in the form of a short article is available at Culture Matters.

Friday 29 September opened the programme with the world premiere of the art film New Dead End #17: Summer School of Orientation in Zapatism by the Russian avant-garde collective Chto Delat? (What is to be done?), followed by a special screening of Sergei Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov’s silent classic October: Ten Days That Shook The World, featuring a live piano score performed by John Snijders. The film was introduced by Dušan Radunović.

Saturday 30 September started with the UK premiere of a recently restored print of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's classic Memories of Underdevelopment (Memorias del Subdesarrollo) (1968). The screening was accompanied by a panel discussion on the Cuban revolution, titled Beyond Remembering: Revolution in Reflection, chaired by Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián, featuring guest speakers Jorge Catalá Carrasco (Newcastle University), Michael Chanan (University of Roehampton) and Dunja Fehimović (Newcastle University).

This was followed by the screening of Esto es lo que hay (2015), the UK premiere of a documentary focused on Los Aldeanos, Cuba’s popular hip-hop band. The screening was followed by Q&A with director Léa Rinaldi via Skype in discussion with Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián and Parvathi Kumaraswami (University of Reading).

The Saturday programme was completed by the art film Krisis (2016), by Dmitri Venkov. This is a theatrical re-enactment of a Facebook discussion among Russian and Ukrainian artists after the tearing down of the Lenin statue in Kiev during the Euromaidan protests of 2013-14. The screening is accompanied by Q&A with the author, chaired by Dušan Radunović.

Sunday 1st October began with the screening of The Uprising (2013), a documentary that creates an imaginary pan-Arab uprising out of videos made by the residents of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria and Yemen. The film was accompanied by a panel discussion, titled In the Hands of the Millennials: Technologies of Revolution, chaired by Anoush Ehteshami and featuring Emma Murphy (Durham University) and the film's director, Peter Snowdon.

This was followed by the screening of #chicagogirl: The Social Network Takes On A Dictator (2013), a documentary that tells a story of a Syrian-American teenage girl who from her suburban childhood bedroom in the US helps her social network in Damascus and Homs endure snipers and shelling in the streets.

Tuesday 3rd October featured the documentary Once Upon a Time Proletarian (Women ceng jing de wuchanzhe) (2009), in which artist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo profiles thirteen representatives of China’s contemporary ‘proletarian’ class who are making sense of life as the country’s old Communist guard gives way to a new and less certain balance of socialism and capitalism. The screening was followed by a panel discussion, titled Changing of the Guard: Revolution across Generations, with Sabrina Yu (Newcastle Univeristy) and Sophia Woodman (Edinburgh University), chaired by Andy Byford.

Wednesday 4th October was dedicated to Silvered Water (Ma’a al-Fidda), by Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan. The film distills footage from thousands of authentic videos to create a shattering, on-the-ground chronicle of the ordeal of ordinary Syrians in the ongoing revolutionary civil war. The screening was followed by a panel discussion, titled Beyond the Political: Cinema of the Real, chaired by Abir Hamdar, featuring guest speakers Malu Halasa (London-based journalist and author of Syria Speaks), Robin Yassin Kassab (Scotland-based Syrian-British writer), activist Leila al-Shami, and political analyst Lina Khatib (Chatham House and SOAS, University of London).

Thursday 5th October foregrounded the topic of gender by showing The Trials of Spring (2015), a documentary about a young village woman caught up in the Egyptian revolution of 2011. The screening was accompanied by a panel discussion, titled Women on the Frontlines: Gender in Revolution, chaired by Abir Hamdar, featuring as guest speakers Maria Holt (University of Westminster) and Zahia Smail Salhi (University of Manchester).

This event was juxtaposed by a very different political deployment of gender in the documentary Pussy vs Putin (2013) - an eyewitness chronicle of the activities of Russia’s feminist anti-authoritarian protest group Pussy Riot, before and after the 2013 arrest and imprisonment of three of their members.

Friday 6th October examined the revolutionary overturn of Communism in Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991. This included the screening of The Event (2015), in which filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa pieces together what lay behind the supposed ‘birth of democracy’ in Russia in 1991. The screening was followed by Q&A with the director via Skype, with Dušan Radunović as discussant.

The day also featured Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujică’s Videograms of a Revolution (1992), a film that focuses on the five days in December 1989 that brought down the Romanian dictator Nicolae CeauÈ™escu, showing how television became a key instrument of revolution, and the television studio a site in which history was made.

Saturday 7th October started with a round table discussion, titled What’s Left? Rethinking Revolution through Visual Art and Cinema Today, in which the curatorial team (Dušan Radunović, Andy Byford, Abir Hamdar, Anoush Ehteshami and Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián) summed up the key themes of the special programme.

The discussion was followed by the screening of A Grin Without A Cat (Le fond de l’air est rouge) (1977), in which Chris Marker retraces the issues, events and debates that provoked the upsurge of political activity in France and across the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s: the rise of right-wing oppression and the crisis of the traditional left. In the author’s own words, the film is pitched against the historical amnesia caused by the television treatment of global events, where 'one event is swept away by another […] and it all finally descends into collective oblivion'.

Sunday 8th October served as the programme's coda, in which revolution's transnationalism was brought to the fore by thematising its inherent connection with migration as a major theme of the turn of the 21st century. In this context, the programme featured the art film Cayuco (2013), by Marcos Ávila Forero - a poetic evocation of the desperate journeys made by contemporary illegal migrants fleeing violence (discussed by Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián); and also the documentary My Father’s Choice (2017), in which director Yan Ting Yuen considers the connections between her father’s personal story of migration, as he fled Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution to eventually settle in the Netherlands, and the history of China since Mao.