The annual Russian Film Symposium returns for its 12th year. The six-day event, co-presented by the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Filmmakers, begins Mon., May 3, and offers 12 recent films, to be shown on the Oakland campus and at the Melwood Screening Room, in North Oakland. This year's theme is "From Art-house to Cineplex: Russian Cinema's Search for a Mass Audience."
Organizer Vladimir Padunov, an associate professor of Slavic language and literature and an associate director of the film-studies program at the University of Pittsburgh, says this year's selections fall into two categories: "Half the films we'll be screening are targeted at the art-house venues and the international film-festival circuit, and the other half are targeted at the domestic audiences and play in Russian multiplexes."
Padunov continues, "New multiplexes are opening up all over Russia at a phenomenally accelerated rate. The old movie theaters continue to be the art-houses, but they tend to show imports exclusively." Russian art films must take a more circuitous route to being released domestically. The art houses will show them, Padunov explains, but usually only after they have won prizes at international film festivals.
The two art-house features that will screen at Melwood are Vasilii Sigarev's Wolfy, a broody but lyrical melodrama about a troubled mother-daughter relationship, and Oxygen, Ivan Vyrpaev's cinematic mash-up of love story, murder, rap and ruminations on the state of the world.
Padunov says the two multiplex films presented -- Valerii Todorovskii's Hipsters and Vladimir Bortko's Taras Bulba -- were both very popular in Russia, but for different reasons. Hipsters, a colorful, lively film set among a clique of Western-obsessed youth in the dreary 1950s, took the Russian Academy Award for best film in 2009. Audiences liked it, Padunov says, because "it was a musical," a genre rarely produced in Russia since its popularity in the 1930s and '40s.
Taras Bulba is adapted from Gogol's novel, and Padunov explains its popularity is obvious: "It's an historical epic action film with lots of gore. Plus every Russian schoolchild has read the book, and it's a literary adaptation, which has always been the most popular cinematic genre, both in the Soviet Union and Russia."
But the spread of multiplexes behind the former Iron Curtain is just part of Russia's emergence as a major European market for film releases, including American hits. Padunov notes that now the Hollywood studios -- including Disney -- are making genre films in Russia exclusively for Russians. Such films are unlikely to be released internationally, but Padunov says perhaps they'll turn up for discussion at a future symposium.
Throughout the symposium, eight films will screen during the day in David Lawrence Room 106 on the University of Pittsburgh campus, and will be followed by discussions. The films are in Russian with English subtitles. There is no charge and the public is welcome. (See www.rusfilmpitt.edu for the complete schedule.)
Four highlighted films will screen at 7:30 p.m. nightly from Wed., May 5, through Sat., May 8, at the Melwood Screening Room (477 Melwood Ave., Oakland). All films are in Russian, with English subtitles; admission is $8. For more information see www.rusfilmpitt.edu or www.pghfilmmakers.org.