Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher, combining practice, teaching and research in the field of communication, media studies and film theory. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

RUSSIA: The philosopher Žižek defined this particular form of power, as the “immanent cynicism of power”. It developed during the communist regime.

«The Greatest Sin Is Cowardice.» With this quote from Michail Bulgakov, Oleg Sentsov closes his final speech at the trial. Sentsov, a film director and Maidan activist born in Ukraine was charged with leading an anti-Russian terrorist movement in Crimea during the events following March 2014. Renowned filmmaking colleagues such as Agnieszka Holland and Wim Wenders, as well as the European Film Academy, campaigned for his release, but in August 2015, a Russian court in Rostov-on-Don  sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment in Siberia. In this documentary, Askold Kurov investigates the context of the trial.

Kurov’s prime source of imagery was found footage. He employed recordings from Sentsov’s own films, various media representations of Sentsov and of the historical events underlying the trial, as well as his family archives. Among
the photographs in the Sentsov family album, there is, as his mother joyfully comments, “Sentsovs first photogram”: an aerial shot of his pet dog. “Or a cat,” remarks the mother. Indeed. Depicted from above, any domestic animal looks like as an oval-shaped stain. Only representations from the side give enough information to make the represented recognizable, not because of some intrinsic ingredient of the representation but because we have learned so. This is a textbook demonstration that images are not things, and the awareness that the way we see things has been historically, socially and culturally contingent is an underlying premise of this film.

Truth and Justice. Askold Kurov graduated in documentary filmmaking at the Marina Razbezhkina Film School in Moscow. In 2012, together with other nine colleagues, he spent two months filming people, their conversations, rallies, victories, and defeats ahead of the presidential election. Thus they created a chronicle of Russia’s winter protests with a telling name Winter, Go Away! (Zima, ukhodi!). His next film, Leninland (2013) was a documentary on the abandoned Museum of Lenin in the village Gorky, near Moscow, while the Children 404 (2014) documented the consequences of the Russian law that forbids “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors,” obliging parents and friends of gay kids to tell them they are sick, sinful and abnormal. Officially, these teens don’t exist and if you search for them on the Internet, the “Error 404” message occurs. The focus on human rights issues and social conflicts in contemporary Russia makes Kurov one of those contemporary documentarians who, regardless the risks, keep the publics aware of the controversies of the contemporary world. As traditional popular media and social media immerse in the pursuit of popularity and political games, the work of these filmmakers is ever more important, and also ever more difficult. The Trial and the destiny of Sentsov testify to that.

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