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Woman with a Movie Camera

Woman with a Movie Camera

Marina Goldovskaya
Translated by Antonina W. Bouis
Foreword by Robert Rosen
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  • Book Info
    Woman with a Movie Camera
    Book Description:

    Marina Goldovskaya is one of Russia's best-known documentary filmmakers. The first woman in Russia (and possibly the world) to combine being a director, writer, cinematographer, and producer, Goldovskaya has made over thirty documentary films and more than one hundred programs for Russian, European, Japanese, and American television. Her work, which includes the award-winning films The House on Arbat Street, The Shattered Mirror, and Solovky Power, has garnered international acclaim and won virtually every prize given for documentary filmmaking.

    In Woman with a Movie Camera, Goldovskaya turns her lens on her own life and work, telling an adventurous, occasionally harrowing story of growing up in the Stalinist era and subsequently documenting Russian society from the 1960s, through the Thaw and Perestroika, to post-Soviet Russia. She recalls her childhood in a Moscow apartment building that housed famous filmmakers, being one of only three women students at the State Film School, and working as an assistant cameraperson on the first film of Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia's most celebrated director. Reviewing her professional filmmaking career, which began in the 1960s, Goldovskaya reveals her passion for creating films that presented a truthful picture of Soviet life, as well as the challenges of working within (and sometimes subverting) the bureaucracies that controlled Russian film and television production and distribution. Along the way, she describes a host of notable figures in Russian film, theater, art, and politics, as well as the technological evolution of filmmaking from film to video to digital media.

    A compelling portrait of a woman who broke gender and political barriers, as well as the eventful four decades of Russian history she has documented, Woman with a Movie Camera will be fascinating reading for a wide audience.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79563-1
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Robert Rosen

    I FIRST MET Marina Goldovskaya during the period of perestroika in the Soviet Union when I was part of a delegation of scholars sent to Moscow to negotiate formal cultural relations between our two countries in the field of film studies. Here was a filmmaker whose courageous documentary films on past abuses of power were hailed as nothing less than events of nationwide importance. She was a woman who had climbed to the top of her field in a male-dominated television industry, and a film artist who wrote scholarly books embodying the much-vaunted but seldom-achieved ideal of uniting theory and...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    On September 11, I woke very early, thanks to jet lag. I had returned to Los Angeles from Moscow the night before. I sat down at my desk to jot a few notes, as usual.

    I was in a marvelous mood. Over the summer in Russia I had seen all my friends, spent two weeks in Borovsk, near Kaluga, and had filmed a lot—and I liked what I had filmed. The film was taking shape.

    Suddenly, my husband shouted from the bedroom, “Marina, come here! You wanted to hear the Orson Welles broadcast? I think they’re playing it.”


  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  7. Father
    (pp. 15-17)

    My father was back. He had been rehabilitated. He immediately returned to work at VGIK (All-Union State Institute of Cinematography, which everyone referred to as the Moscow Film School), where he had taught since 1924.

    The first thing he did was go to the library.

    “Where are my books?” he asked. He had published close to fifteen works by then.

    “We were forced to remove them,” the librarian said.

    “Well, and what did you do with them? Throw them away?”

    I knew that librarian, from the time when I was a student. She was an old woman, very amusing.


  8. Childhood
    (pp. 18-21)

    I was born at the most inconvenient time—July 15, 1941. Mother told me (during the only interview I ever videotaped of her) that I was born in the middle of an air raid, bombs falling, horrible noise outside, and she begged the midwife to take me away. “Please, please! Take her to a bomb shelter.”

    The midwife placed me in my mother’s arms and said, “I’m not taking her away from you. You two have one fate. Whatever happens, you must be together.”

    For a long time I did not know who my grandparents were. Mother’s passport gave her...

  9. Our House
    (pp. 22-27)

    Our building was special. It looked grim and gray, surrounded by a fence made of metal pipes. It was the prestigious House of Filmmakers, in which all residents were prominent film directors, producers, actors, writers, and cinematographers.

    All the interesting activities took place in the courtyard. There were lots of kids, and here I fell in love for the first time—with Fedya Provorov, a boy with clear blue eyes, the son of the cameraman Fiodor Provorov, who lived in the house next door. His mother was a great beauty, also with blue eyes. She often wandered alone in the...

  10. Bolshevo
    (pp. 28-31)

    Besides our building, which was all about cinema, there was also Bolshevo, thirty kilometers from Moscow, a resort where we spent our vacations. We usually went there in winter. In summer we lived in our country dacha, which Father had built himself. He loved planting tomatoes and potatoes and tending his apple trees.

    The filmmakers’ house in Bolshevo had been built in 1936 by Shumyat-sky, who was the cinema commissar in those days. People went there to write screenplays, and many lived there for extended periods, working or just vacationing. When the country was on the six-day workweek, they usually...

  11. Those Times
    (pp. 32-35)

    I lived in a very warm and gentle atmosphere of human relations. I was “Daddy’s girl.” People loved my father, and therefore they loved me.

    In the world of cinema, people treat one another in various ways. One encounters envy, hatred, intrigues, and rumors behind one’s back—but Father was spared all that. He stood apart from the creative crowd, and even though there must have been squabbles in the technical field as well, he never mentioned them to me. Perhaps nothing like that ever occurred. I remember going with Mother to a birthday party for Father on January 20,...

  12. I Will Be a Camerawoman
    (pp. 36-44)

    I started school in 1948. In my class of more than forty children, I was the only one who had a father. Most families had lost their men in the war. I think there were two other girls who had fathers, but their fathers did not live with them. I felt almost guilty: I had a mother and a father.

    Everyone was very poor. We were given one meal at school. We dressed modestly. The first time I wore synthetic stockings was for my graduation. Sometime in the mid-1950s, after Stalin’s death, Father began traveling abroad, and he brought back...

  13. Where to Next?
    (pp. 45-50)

    In theory, I could have gone to various studios, but only as an assistant. There was no hope of starting out as a cinematographer. There were only five studios in Moscow, all belonging to the state. Two produced features; one, newsreels and documentaries; one, educational films; and one, animations. Not many films were being made at that time. A beginner could get stuck for several years as an assistant. I didn’t want to go into feature films; working on The Steamroller and the Violin had left me with a taste of boredom. Tarkovsky was only a student then, and I...

  14. Lessons of Television
    (pp. 51-53)

    Pre-television documentary films consisted of images, music, and narrative text (titles in silent film). Reenactments and staging were just about the only way to film people. The 35 mm technology was too bulky, heavy, and immobile. By the mid-1960s we started using 16 mm cameras. I remember my pleasure when I held the small Arriflex for the first time. It was like a toy, weighing only 2.2 kilograms (about 5 pounds). It was easy to work with—we could run with it, climb the highest spots, and film without a tripod in a moving car. The very first day I...

  15. Teaching
    (pp. 54-57)

    One day I was in Leningrad, filming for the literary-drama department. We were at some factory, and a man came in. My editor saw him and got very agitated. “Oh, that’s my chief!” he said.

    Since the man wasn’t my chief, I was a lot less worried. He watched us work and then came over and introduced himself. That’s how I met Enver Bagirov, a meeting that had a profound influence on my life.

    He called soon afterward. “I have an idea,” he said. “Would you like to work with me on a picture?”

    Working with a smart person is...

  16. The Weavers
    (pp. 58-64)

    When I started out, documentary film could hardly be called “documentary.” Almost all of it was staged. It was practically impossible to work differently with the existing equipment. But in the mid-1960s, things started to change.

    Pavel Kogan and Petr Mostovoy made Look at the Face, in which a hidden camera was placed in a cardboard structure to watch the real emotions of people as they were looking at the Litta Madonna in the Hermitage. Borya Galanter, whose Shagovik was primarily staged, did some direct observations with his camera. The film Katyusha, by Lisakovich, made us realize how impressive an...

  17. My First Film Portrait
    (pp. 65-67)

    In the late 1960s the whole world was excited by Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s heart transplant surgery. A new era had begun, and it looked as if humankind had conquered death. In the USSR, similar experiments were headed by Professor Alexander Vishnevsky. So when my old VGIK classmate Igor Khomsky suggested making a film with him about a heart transplant that was to take place soon at the Military Medical Academy in Leningrad, I agreed instantly. One of my reasons was that my father had grave cardiac problems. What if the incurable could be cured?

    The next day, Igor and I...

  18. Professional Infatuations
    (pp. 68-72)

    Sometimes the most ordinary events become extremely important and determine the development of the rest of your life. For me, such an event was meeting Raissa Nemchinskaya, the circus gymnast, in 1970.

    I met her at her son’s house. He was my good friend, Max Nemchinsky, a theater director. Raissa was lively, witty, and charming and spent the evening enchanting us with tales of her circus life. She was the center of attention, and it was obvious that she was used to it and expected it. She looked around thirty-five or thirty-eight, but simple math showed that she was older...

  19. Them
    (pp. 73-82)

    Television was a state within a state, just as totalitarian as the big state. The atmosphere and mind-set was probably even harsher than within the political system as a whole. The TV screen was the system’s bastion—the main mechanism for influencing the masses, a powerful brainwashing tool. The executives in charge in the 1960s–1980s had been brought up by the ideological school of the 1920s–1940s.

    This included the ministers of the State Committee for Television and Radio, Nikolai Mesyatsev (1959–1967) and Sergei Lapin (1968–1985); their deputies; and the heads of all the departments and associations....

  20. The Ordeal
    (pp. 83-90)

    It was so hard to get every picture accepted by the studio executives—even the most harmless films. I had so much trouble with the simple one about the glassblower. Arkady Raikin also barely squeaked by, even though the comedian was celebrated and universally respected. But the film lacked aggressive social optimism. And how Mamedov mocked Deniska-Denis, an unassuming film about a three-year-old boy. He didn’t like my pictures because they could not be used politically.

    My films were often praised in the press. Many publications had journalists of a somewhat liberal bent who always wanted to support fresh, human...

  21. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  22. Compromises
    (pp. 91-95)

    I joined the Communist Party in 1966. This is how it happened. About a year after I started working in television, I was told, “You are invited to be a guest of honor for the May Day celebration at the State Committee for Television and Radio on Pyatnitskaya Street.”

    That was unimaginable. I did pretty good work, but an honor like that? I later learned the ulterior motive. Orders from higher up called for a young woman to represent the cinematographers who worked for television. There were three of us, and I was the youngest. I was selected.

    I sat...

  23. Sharp Angles
    (pp. 96-99)

    Most Soviet television documentaries portrayed people in an official way, creating only role models. That’s why it was so hard to work on them. A film is interesting only when there’s conflict, edginess, something unusual, and those were the very things that were hard to get past our bosses. The editors feared conflict the way devils fear church incense.

    Even though the subjects of my films were positive characters, I still tried to show other aspects, such as their ability to take action and readiness to stand up against, if not the regime and system, then at least the circumstances....

  24. On the Threshold of Change
    (pp. 100-106)

    After making The Eighth Director, I realized that my interests had shifted toward issue films, which put new problems on my agenda. I had to find bold and fearless journalists who knew contemporary issues. Liberal journalists, who were few in those days, were mostly writing for such Soviet newspapers and magazines as Novy Mir, Literaturnaya Gazeta, and Moskovskie Novosti. One of them was Gennady Lisichkin, an economist and journalist. He wrote pointed articles touching on the very foundation of the socialist system. Naturally, the bosses in television did not want to see him among their writers—he was too controversial....

  25. Arkhangelsk Muzhik
    (pp. 107-120)

    Back in the Brezhnev days a popular joke went like this: “Is a two-party system possible in the USSR?” “No. We couldn’t afford to feed two parties.”

    Throughout the Soviet period, no one dared mention a multiparty system. There was only one party, whose leading role was defined by the Constitution. Now it all seems like a bad dream—did it happen? But in those days, when a second party was still impossible but was needed to move the nation forward, journalists performed the role. Gorbachev, many felt, used journalism—press, radio, and television—as a kind of opposition party....

  26. Oleg Efremov
    (pp. 121-123)

    In February 1987, when all the troubles around Arkhangelsk Muzhik were over, I felt like a squeezed lemon. I needed a serious rest. And the very same day that I decided to take a vacation, the telephone rang. It was my good friend Alexander Svobodin, a theater critic.

    “Do you know that in six months Oleg Efremov will turn sixty?” he asked. “Isn’t it a great opportunity to make a film about him? I already spoke to him, and he had no objections. I will be happy to write a script for you.”

    I said yes immediately. Efremov was my...

  27. Solovki Power
    (pp. 124-156)

    Of my thirty-two films, I think that Solovki Power remains the most significant, because of its subject and the influence it had on the public when it was first released in 1988. Indeed, the inspiration for this book arose when ten years later, in 1998, I learned that the original negative of the film had been destroyed, preventing the creation of any more copies. I couldn’t accept that it could be lost to history, and I felt it was my duty to preserve the memory of the film and the people whose stories it portrays. They are all gone now....

  28. Life Is More Talented Than We Are
    (pp. 157-161)

    In the fall of 1988, shortly after I had finished Solovki Power, I got a call from Oleg Uralov, the director of a newly created studio called Videofilm. “I am glad you are done with Solovki,” he said. “Now you have to start on the film for us. I included Anastasia Tsvetayeva in our studio’s plan, and it has to be finished by December 30. We cannot miss the deadline.”

    This telephone call was unexpected and made me feel sick. I was absolutely not ready to start a new film. Seven months of intense work on Solovki had exhausted me,...

  29. Perestroika: Another Life
    (pp. 162-167)

    Perestroika, which started after Gorbachev took over in the mid-1980s, divided my life in two: what came before and what came after. Before, everything was very clear. Clear that changes were on the way. Clear that one had to do one’s work well, and clear how to do it. I made films for an audience I understood, in a situation I understood, where I knew who were my viewers and who weren’t. I knew for whom my films were meant.

    With the advent of the changes, everything became mixed up. We couldn’t tell yet that we were living through a...

  30. A Taste of Freedom
    (pp. 168-176)

    Perestroika brought us documentary filmmakers a long-awaited freedom from censorship. On the one hand, that was good; on the other, not so good. We were used to a metaphoric method of talking to the audience, hiding the most important thoughts between the lines, speaking in hints and references. It was a language that got past the censors but was understood by the audience, who could tell what we meant. And then the need for that indirect language was gone. We could speak to the audience openly. Strangely enough, it was not always for the best. Some filmmakers moved too much...

  31. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  32. Once More about Scripts
    (pp. 177-179)

    Back in the 1920s and 1930s, Dziga Vertov, my countryman and genius documentary filmmaker, predicted that “scripts” as a “product of literary composition” will disappear. His dream could not become reality then: the system’s censorship would not permit it. The film executives demanded a detailed script, everything spelled out from A to Z, edited, and censored. There was no room for improvisation—directors had to follow the approved script exactly. Naturally, in order to keep to the script, staging and reenactments were the basic method of filming.

    Actually, this held true outside the Soviet Union too. Documentary films were made...

  33. Earthquake
    (pp. 180-182)

    In January 1994, after editing Lucky to Be Born in Russia, I returned to Los Angeles for the new semester, exhausted, wiped out completely. The film had taken everything out of me. Actually, this time what had worn me out was not the film itself so much as the events of October 1993, when I found myself in the epicenter of the political unrest. Back in California, I thought, “Now I’ll be able to relax a little bit.” I had lectures scheduled at the UCLA film school and I was just starting teaching, so naturally I was anxious, but I...

  34. The House on Arbat Street
    (pp. 183-193)

    In 1993, a year before the earthquake, I made The House on Arbat Street, a film about a communal apartment building situated on one of the oldest streets in Moscow. Actually, I started working on this film much earlier, but it took two years to sell the idea. At first I offered it to a TV channel in Moscow but was unsuccessful. Then I suggested the topic to Roland Joffe, my main producer on A Taste of Freedom. He liked the idea and said that he wanted to produce it. He passed my proposal on to Canal+. It lay there...

  35. Life with a Camera
    (pp. 194-197)

    The idea of The Children of Ivan Kuzmich was suggested to me by my old friend Maya Turovskaya, an outstanding scriptwriter and film scholar. She is also the scriptwriter of this film and one of its protagonists. Ivan Kuzmich was the principal of School 110 in Moscow, from which she graduated on June 21, 1941, a day before war was declared. Maya’s classmates included many remarkable people: Svetlana Bukharina, the daughter of Nikolai Bukharin, a comrade-in-arms of Lenin’s who was executed as an enemy of the people in 1937; Marcus Wolf, “the man without a face,” the notorious chief of...

  36. Technology and Creativity
    (pp. 198-201)

    Once I got my own video camera in 1989, a new era began for me. I didn’t have to be dependent on producers and networks, waiting for months and sometimes even more for an approval of an idea for a new film. I could start shooting right away. I could afford working on long-term projects without spending too much of my own money. So when I say that I can divide my professional life into those two stages—before the video camera and after—I really mean it.

    Usually, the technology that documentary filmmakers use is more modest and simple...

  37. The Prince
    (pp. 202-212)

    In 1998, after I finished The Children of Ivan Kuzmich, I began looking for the theme of my next film. I noticed an article in Komsomolskaya Pravda called “The Landlord Returns,” about Yevgeny Meshchersky. The scion of a noted princely line, Meshchersky had returned to Alabino, a small village outside Moscow, to the ruins of the ransacked and bankrupt estate that had once belonged to his ancestors. According to the article, he had emigrated from Ukraine with his family and his serfs, to settle there and restore the family house.

    That seemed notable and strange. There was something of the...

  38. On Ethics
    (pp. 213-215)

    The question of ethics became a major issue in documentary film with the advent of 16 mm technology. When we were making The Weavers in 1968, Nikita Khubov and I sensed at one point that we had crossed the line and had violated the privacy of our heroines’ private lives, by entering where we had not been invited. I had this feeling back then: “Oh, boy! This is dangerous! Where will it end?”

    Later, in 1972, I wrote an article, “Delicate Camera,” about the ethics of documentary film for Zhurnalist magazine. We film people, but they don’t know what we...

  39. Life with a Camera (Continued)
    (pp. 216-217)

    Ever since fate brought me to America, I consider it a matter of principal importance that I continue making films about Russia. When you live in two countries, it helps you to remember who you are. It’s important not to lose contact with your roots when you spend most of your time abroad. Perhaps because I traveled to Russia frequently—usually at least three times a year—and made films and kept an eye on what was happening in Russia, the connecting thread did not break. In America, I always felt Russian, and I follow Russian issues no less than...

  40. Documentary Trip
    (pp. 218-226)

    Before I take on a topic, I have to hear a little bell ring inside me. My intuition prompts me to take it; I actually feel a nudge. I think, “Yes, here’s a theme I can do.” No one can predict how it will turn out, but it will be interesting. It responds to something in me.

    So I say, “Take off!” and start work. Then come the doubts, horror, nightmares, lack of confidence. I regret that I ever started; I swear I’ll never do it again. But deep inside, there’s another voice, a confident one that says, “Don’t be...

  41. Filmography of Marina Goldovskaya
    (pp. 227-232)
  42. Appendix: Notable Figures in Soviet Filmmaking and Other Arts
    (pp. 233-254)
  43. Index
    (pp. 255-264)