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Eng/Rus

Just as New York is not America, so Moscow is not Russia. And more broadly, the center is not the periphery. The irony embedded in the Russian version is this: the “center” (be it Moscow or St. Petersburg) is located near the westernmost border of the country, seven times zones away from the easternmost border.

At their root, however, the US and Russian clichés have entirely different meanings. The English cliché emphasizes the ethnic and cultural diversity of New York in comparison to the American heartland. The Russian version stresses the stark economic and infrastructural gap between the center and the periphery. Although this gap pre-dates even Soviet power, it has grown dramatically over the past two decades. The center has experienced a high increase in new construction (buildings and roads); the influx of domestic and foreign capital into the center has fostered a burgeoning middle-class with access to all consumer goods. Meanwhile, the periphery has been largely ignored; living conditions have deteriorated and roads become impassable. Poverty has risen sharply, accompanied by shortages of essential foodstuffs.

For much of these two decades, Russian feature films, like the political administrative center, have ignored the periphery, focusing instead on the increasing wealth, proliferation of consumer goods, conspicuous consumption, and glossy life-styles in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In part this was a matter of convenience and economy: Moscow and St. Petersburg are the administrative and production centers of the Russian film industry: the Union of Filmmakers is based in Moscow and has its largest affiliate offices in St. Petersburg; four of the five film studios in the country are located in these two cities.

In the past two years, however, directors have increasingly turned their attention to the conditions of life in the Russian periphery― to the smaller, outlying cities (Vladivostok, Perm, Rostov-on-the-Don), the rural countryside, and even the permafrost regions. Russian screens—the vast majority of which are overhauled screening halls and new multiplexes in the center—are now filled with an unexpected form of exotica: the Motherland!

Critical and popular reactions to these images have been sharply mixed. Some have welcomed the expansion of locale shooting, the “authenticity” of the living conditions, and the examination of the hardships in these locations. Many more have fiercely attacked these films for “blackening” Russia; they compare these films to early post-Soviet chernukha (films that showed the ugly underside of life, inherited from the Soviet system).

We ask you to join us during the week of 2–7 May 2011 and decide for yourselves.