«Of all the art forms, film is the most important to us, » stated Lenin after the Revolution. Russian film maker Alexander Medvedkin were of the same opinion when he founded the legendary cinema train in 1932, the subject of Chris Marker’s 30 minute-film Le train en marche some 40 years later. The first five-year plan had just been put into practise, agriculture coerced into collectivism, and production levels had fallen dramatically. Medvedkin saw film as a tool to complete the five-year plan and lay the foundations for the socialist state. In January, three compartments left Moscow consisting of a lab, a cutting room and a projection space, in addition to sleeping areas for the 32 film works taking part in the project. Over the next 294 days, travelling across the enormous Soviet continent, the film team documented well-adjusted as well as inoperative production collectives, developed the footage, edited them, and instantly screened them to the participants for them to discuss their labour methods and understand any glitches. To Medvedkin, this cinema train was the train of the revolution, and the film medium a weapon, bearing the signature of not only the director and photographer, but also of the participating people.
A better world. This is the basis for the large project Cinetrain: Russian Winter. In January 2013, 21 film workers from 14 different countries undertook a 15,500-kilometer train journey. Due to last one month, it was to take them from Moscow to Murmansk, St. Petersburg, Kotlas, Tomsk and Olknon, an island in the middle of Lake Baikal. From there, they travelled back to Moscow where their films were to premier on the day of arrival.
This was the third such project, with the participants chosen from an open advertisement. The first Cinetrain in 2008 concentrated on the imaginary borders between Russia and Europe, whilst the project two years later focused on the actual borders of the South and East. The task this time round was to shed light on the most common Russian stereotypes, and to find out how Russians see themselves. The result was eight short films, of which six form part of Cinetrain: Russian Winter; the winter, the woman, the vodka, the Lada, the bear…..and the Russian soul.
Although the framework for all the projects remain the same, specifically the train journey, there are also some obvious differences. Whereas Medvedkin had clear politically aspirations and viewed the film as a tool in developing society, the film makers behind Cinetrain: Russian Winter inhabit, to a greater extent, the role of observers. And where Medvedkin wanted to get people to see themselves and use this newly acquired insight to create a better world, the perception of self is at the core of the 2013 films. There is no political input from the directors, nor do they attempt to change anything – this is instead an arena for the cultural tourist. What these projects have in common, is that they enable people who often have no public voice to be heard. Another common denominator is the lack of finances: whilst the 1930s film makers had to develop the footage on the spot, some 80 years later the directors are editing on the train, or are struggling with getting equipment to work in the extreme cold.
The film is about the woman, the vodka, the Lada, the bear…..and the Russian soul.