The Transnationalism of Soviet and Post-Soviet Cinemas: The Case of Transcaucasia
In 'Defining Transnationalism', Contemporary European History, 14 (2005), 421-439, Patricia Clavin has located the concept of transnationalism in the interstices of the official and the unofficial, public and private, biological and political. Transnationalism, Clavin argues, is ‘first and foremost about people: the social spaces they inhabit, the networks they form and the ideas they exchange’ (422). This positioning of trans-nationalisms outside traditional categories of political theory testifies to our glaring need to rethink the apparatus within and by which we conceive of our group and individual identities. Nowhere is this urge to rearticulate the terms of our belonging to a socially constructed identity felt more acutely than in the post-Soviet space where, in the wake of the collapse of Soviet multi-nationalism, new identities are being built in a multitude of ways: by drawing boundaries, territorial and symbolic ones alike, but also, by allowing for new forms of human relations and associations. The role of the moving image in these processes is nothing short of central: cinema has been the vehicle of new nation-building processes, but it has, equally, found itself at the centre of new, transnational forms of association.
In this project, Dr Dušan Radunović investigates the complex positionality of film art within the variegated Soviet and post-Soviet politics of nationhood, aiming to identify the manifestations of cinematic transnationalism in the film processes of both Soviet and post-Soviet eras, with thematic/period emphasis on the early Soviet period (1918-1931), the Russophone post-Soviet cinema, and the cinema of the Republic of Georgia. Conceptually, ‘The Transnationalism of Soviet and Post-Soviet Cinemas’ pays special attention to the following set of issues: the transnational modes of production, distribution and exhibition (both in early Soviet years and in the post-Soviet period); exilic authorship (post-Soviet Georgian cinema); and (c) the hybridization of cinematic space and the representation of border-crossing, migration and displacement (post-Soviet cinema).
Grounded in archival material, the early-Soviet segment of the project rewrites certain aspects of this formative period, proposing that transnational elements were laid out in the very foundations of Soviet cinema. Indeed, in its embryonic moments, the 1918 setting up of the Cine-photo section of Narkompros, the establishment of the All-Russian Department of Film and Photography (VFKO) in March 1919 and/or the August 1919 Nationalisation Decree, the new stakeholders prioritised the expansion of distribution routes to territories outside those under the control of Bolshevik authorities – Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states. No doubt, this transnational effort primarily aimed to bolster the political outreach of the new Bolshevik state; however, it also testified to the fact that, right from the outset, the nascent Soviet film industry critically depended on expanded trade routes and, above all, on transnational sites of consumption.
Further into the 1920s, the project examines the way in which the expanded process of ‘cinefication’ [kinofikatsiia] went hand in hand with the Soviet policy of national emancipation. Research focuses on the activities of the Georgian Film Studio in Tbilisi (Sakhkinmretsvi studio), from its establishment in 1921 to the end of the decade. Along with the structural transformations of the Studio, emphasis is placed on its appropriation of avant-garde practices (e.g. montage) and the appointment of some of the leading avant-garde figures from the metropolitan centre (e.g. Sergei Tret’iakov). The resultant of this markedly transnational exchange was the birth of a vernacular film-language and the creation of a new form of artistic reflexivity in Soviet Georgia. The project explores the workings of this dynamic on the examples from two case studies, Lev Push & Nikoloz Shengelaia’s Giulli (1926/1927) and Nikoloz Shengelaia’s Eliso (1927).
Finally, the project revisits one of the key aspects of the early-Soviet use of the film-medium to identify and appropriate space as a political and national entity in the radically new, post-Soviet context. One of the project’s aims is to investigate the ways in which a number of post-Soviet filmmakers of different generations – most notably Otar Iosseliani, Sergei Loznitsa, Mikheil Kalatozishvili and Giorgi Ovashvili – hybridize and ‘disarticulate’ space; that is, perform a specific, cinematic undoing of geopolitical territory by constructing it as an uncharted or ambiguous entity, rather than a mapped and politically identified one. As a rule, this effacement of a geopolitical order is accompanied by the unleashing of human affects, often to a destructive effect. In this context, the project studies Iosseliani’s French films Gardens in Autumn [Jardins en automne, 2006] and In vino Veritas , Loznitsa’s films My Joy [Счастье мое, 2010] and In the Fog [В тумане, 2012], Mikheil Kalatozishvili’s Wild Field [Дикое поле, 2009] and Giorgi Ovashvili’s The Other Bank [Gagma napiri, 2008], as a radical critique of political space – the key locus of power of the nation-state.