I began my studies at VGIK, the All-Russian State University of Cinematography in Moscow in the year 1986. In the very same year, the influence of Perestroika finally reached the forbidden films that had gathered on the institute's shelves for decades. The largest movie theatre in the school, the Aktovyij hall, held weekly preview screenings of new and "old" films due for premiere.
During one of these screenings, I also had my first exposure to Alexander Sokurov as a filmmaker. The Lonely Voice of Man had been completed as long ago as 1978, and had originally been intended as Sokurov's diploma work at VGIK. However, the outside jury committee thought the film was politically incorrect; in other words, it did not reflect the Party's doctrine on how the post-civil-war period was to be presented in the Soviet Union. The mental trauma accrued by the main character in the civil war, the presentation of intellectuals as sufferers, and the actual famine that raged in the war-torn country were not among acceptable points of view. Andrei Tarkovsky did everything in his power to save the film, and Lenfilm together with the Film Union reconstructed the film in 1987. The value of this film academy has always been based on a respect for the traditions of humanism. Throughout its history, the VGIK faculty has always consisted of the country's leading filmmakers who, for one reason or another, have been out of favour with those in power.
This first film by Sokurov left an indelible impression on me. None of his later films have been so austerely true; a mind wounded by civil war struggling back to life through the power of love.
During the same year, I also saw another one of Sokurov's films. The documentary footage from the squalor of a Central Asian village; the apathetic stares of the mentally ill; when combined with a fiction narrative, these images struck me with the force of a physical blow. In Days of Eclipse, Sokurov already employed all of his trademark stylistic traits: using documentary material in a fiction film, using amateur actors alongside professionals, and incorporating scale models into landscapes.
The next time I met Sokurov was in 2003, when Russian Ark opened the DocPoint documentary film festival in Helsinki. The festival also hosted a seminar at which Sokurov delivered a monologue, lasting several hours, on his most important "theses". I still recall what he said about feeling: "The only gauge of art in society is its warmth or lack thereof; the more warmth and emotional experience the artist is able to convey, the more conflicts he will have with society." This emotional warmth can be identified in the spiritual struggles of Sokurov's film characters. With his 17 fiction films and over 30 documentaries, Sokurov has created "another life", as he calls cinema.
With my film essay, I wish to portray the universal human values championed by Alexander Sokurov, and not to create a traditional, one-sided portrait of a director. The film seeks to express a worldview that is all too rare today – a perspective that could be described as humanism, correctly understood.
- Leena Kilpeläinen, director
- Leena Kilpeläinen, director