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Please click here for a Russian version of this text.

This year’s Symposium, Melodrama and Kino-Ideology, explores an enduring paradox: on the one hand, throughout the history of the Soviet and post-Soviet film industry, genre cinema has been dismissed by Russo-Soviet directors as a distant and alien phenomenon, the product of the “bourgeois film industry” (in Soviet times) or the “globalized film industry” (today). On the other hand, as Russian and Western film critics agree, since at least 1999 Russia’s resurgent film industry has been driven by genre films (the gangster film, the war film, the buddy film, the romantic comedy, and—most frequently—the melodrama).

Russian melodrama differs markedly from its Western counterpart, where the focus on matters of “private life” avoids explicit political issues. The response, then, by much Western scholarship on melodrama is the attempt to tease out melodrama’s unacknowledged ideological components. By contrast, Russo-Soviet melodrama has tended to be self-consciously—one might even say, requisitely—ideological, embedding the “private” sphere within the “public” one. Historically insufficient to the ideological demands of Marxism-Leninism, prone to dismissal as trite and insubstantial, Soviet melodrama had been perpetually vulnerable to charges of inadequate vigilance and Party-mindedness; its film texts struggled to manifest the ideological dimension explicitly so as to shore up a place in the industry. How does contemporary Russian melodrama exhibit symptoms of this past? Can we still see the ideological threads running through today’s work, or do we, by contrast, see a kind of new exultation in the opportunity finally to shoot melodrama on its own terms?

The working thesis of this year’s Symposium suggests that Russian melodrama, functioning in the legacy of the second world, necessarily positions itself within this historical demand for explicit ideological categories. While the film texts’ articulation of ideology may differ widely—from ironic and subversive to self-justifying and redemptive—the ghost of ideology continues to haunt much of contemporary Russian cinema, and melodrama in particular. And unlike mainstream Western film studies, which would take up the task of discovering the unacknowledged ideological moment in Western melodrama, this project seeks to examine the ways in which ideology, having functioned in the Soviet twentieth century as a mandatory, core assignment (the “social command”) still operates today as a central problematic in even the most domestic and private treatments of contemporary Russian life.

Melodrama and Kino-Ideology provides two fora: public screenings at the Melwood Screening Room of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, with brief introductions and public discussion; and a scholarly component at the University of Pittsburgh, consisting of research presentations, screenings, and debate. This year’s films include a survey of recent Russian melodramas (2005-7): Artem Antonov’s Polumgla (2005), Aleksei Balabanov’s It Doesn’t Hurt (2006), Ivan Dykhovichnyi’s Inhale—Exhale (2006), Ekaterina Grokhovskaia’s Man of No Return (2006), Boris Khlebnikov’s Free Floating (2006), Andrei Kravchuk’s The Italian, Iurii Moroz’s The Spot (2006), Kira Muratova’s Two in One (2007), Aleksandr Rogozhkin’s Transit (2006), Avdot'ia Smirnova’s Relations (2006), Aleksandr Veledinskii’s Alive (2006), and Ivan Vyrypaev’s Euphoria (2006).

The Russian Film Symposium is supported by the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Filmmakers.