A guide to creative Russia


September 19, 2014

Rain TV, OpenRussia create YouTube channel for anti-war poetry reading ahead of peace march

Still from Katya Kheyfets reading Jacques Prévert

Rain TV, the independent news channel, has teamed up with the multimedia news portal OpenRussia to create a YouTube video channel devoted to readings of anti-war poetry in advance of the peace march set to commence this Sunday in Moscow.

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The channel, which now comprises eight videos, features filmmakers, actors and other cultural figures reading from a selection of anti-war poetry from Russian and French poets, including Osip Mandelstam, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Jacques Prévert and Louis Aragon. Among those reciting are theatre director Vladimir Mirzoev, actor Alexei Devotchenko and history teacher Tamara Eidelman.

Earlier today, the pro-Kremlin media outlet LifeNews reported that the protest march against the Russian government's position on Ukraine, which was approved by officials, had been cancelled. However, the post has since been removed from the website. 

The YouTube channel can be found here.

See also:

Nobel prize-winning writers speak out about Russian “propaganda”

Leading authors protest Russia’s anti-free speech laws

  • Text: Nadia Beard
September 18, 2014

Architects unite in open letter to protect Melnikov House

Melnikov House. Photograph: Nikolai Vassiliev under a CC licence

More than 60 of Russia’s best-known architects, artists, filmmakers and journalists have penned an open letter to Vladimir Medinsky, the Minister of Culture, in a bid to halt plans to turn Moscow’s iconic Melnikov House into a museum. The house, a masterpiece of avant-garde architecture, has been the subject of a bitter feud between the two granddaughters of the architect, Konstantin Melnikov, who are divided over the fate of the property. 

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The letter, published this week, slams last month’s eviction of the building’s residents — Melnikov's granddaughter, Yekaterina Karinskaya, and her family — who were surprised when security personnel broke down the front door, sealed up the house and, she claims, stole valuables and money. The letter, whose signatories include eminent architect and artist Alexander Brodsky, journalist and historian Grigory Revzin and curator of the Moscow Museum Evgeniya Kikodze, urges the Schusev Museum of Architecture, which is responsible for the development of the house, not to open the house to visitors before extensive reconstruction is complete. 

“There is no doubt that a museum cannot be established on the basis of such legally dubious action, direct force, and speed," the open letter reads. "The plans of the Schusev State Museum of Architecture include the swift opening of the house to visitors (in November 2014), however this simply cannot be done before scientific restoration is carried out. Without restoration the house could be lost within a short time; the position of the Schusev State Musuem of Architecture goes against the main ambitions of the creation of the Melnikov Museum — the preservation of a unique building.”

The letter asks Medinsky to suspend all activities in Melnikov House, apart from emergency conservation measures; to create a commission, including lawyers representing all parties of the conflict, to establish a plan for the museum’s development; and to create an expert council comprising museum experts, designers and 20th-century architecture specialists.

The letter concludes: “Melnikov House is a world heritage site; the entire architecture community are now watching the situation of the monument with worry and astonishment. We ask you to oversee the peaceful settlement of the conflict, thus preserving the cultural heritage of the country and the reputation of the cultural and architectural communities in Russia.” 

Melnikov House comprises two interlocking cylinders, and is widely considered to be one of the best remaining examples of private housing throughout the Soviet period. 

See also:

Melnikov House to be turned into a museum

Residents of Melnikov House evicted as renovations get underway

Melnikov House: a video report on the past, present and future of a Modernist icon

  • Text: Nadia Beard
September 18, 2014

Annual QueerFest opens in St Petersburg

Queerfest, the largest public LGBT event in Russia, gets underway in St Petersburg today, despite fears from festival organisers that increased hostilities towards the LGBT community in Russia could cause trouble.

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Now in its sixth year, the event comprises talks, screenings, concerts and exhibitions over a period of ten days. Educational at its core, this year’s festival will focus on how tolerance can be taught to children, while also exploring gay subcultures in St Petersburg in the early 20th century. Manifesta 10, the roving European biennale of contemporary art which set down roots in St Petersburg this year, will also participate in the programme, examining the relationship between art, society and politics. 

Organiser Polina Andrianova has said that the festival has already received threats and protests online, with further harassment expected. However, she remains hopeful of the festival's success. "It feels that we’ve already succeeded, as the spirit of celebration and pride is in the air and will be with us these ten days," she said. "Everything is so gloomy throughout the year — it feels good to set aside a time when the LGBT community, and our supporters and allies, can join together to openly and publicly celebrate our work, our identities, and our lives.”

St Petersburg has been at the centre of Russia’s crackdown on LGBT rights over the last two years, with local lawmaker Vitaly Milonov spearheading the “anti-gay propaganda” laws that were first passed in the city and then later nationally. 

See also:

Russia offers LGBT activist compensation for arrest under “gay propaganda” law

Sir Ian McKellen urges Putin to repeal “gay propaganda” law

  • Text: Samuel Crews
September 17, 2014

State duma considers bill to limit foreign shares in Russian media

Offices of Sanoma, owners of publications including The Moscow Times and Vedomosti

Russia’s State Duma is considering a bill to limit foreign shareholding in media outlets in Russia to 20% and ban foreigners from founding Russian media organisations.

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Vladimir Parakhin of the Fair Russia party, one of the architects of the law, told Izvestia that the bill would satisfy the need to protect Russia’s media landscape. He said: “If we are talking about a higher percentage, like 25% for example, then this is actually a blocking stake which would allow you to significantly influence the information policy of any publication. We have seen examples of this with the events in Ukraine, which have been presented in ways not entirely accurate by the Russian press.”

Under current legislation, foreign shareholders can own up to 50% of a radio or TV station in Russia, with unlimited foreign shareholding in print media. If approved, publications including Vedomosti and The Moscow Times — both of which are owned by Nordic media holding Sanoma — would be affected.

The bill, which was put forward by representatives from the Fair Russia, Communist and Liberal Democratic parties, would be implemented on 1 January 2016 if approved, with media owners given until 1 February 2017 to bring their corporations in line with the law. After that, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media watchdog, will have the power to suspend the activities of media outlets who violate it.

Vadim Dengin, from Russia’s right-wing Liberal Democratic Party, told Izvestia: “Those who own information own the world. It is clear that if foreigners enter the media market of any country, they practically gain access to the minds of the people, to the formation of public opinion. And here we must clearly demarcate for people who buy media organisations — are you here to do business or to bring your policies and change the situation in the country?”

In a media landscape already suffering from a government crackdown in recent months, the bill, if approved, would be a death sentence for many leading independent news portals in Russia. Following the start of the Ukraine crisis earlier this year, the Kremlin's efforts to control the media have markedly intensified, with unexpected firings, mass resignations and the sudden withdrawal of funding threatening the survival of Russia's independent media.

See also:

A guide to the troubled world of independent journalism

Russian businessman opens fund to support independent media

Olympic gymnast-turned-lawmaker to head pro-Kremlin media holding

Mass media law for bloggers comes into effect

  • Text: Nadia Beard
September 16, 2014

Hollywood actors arrive in Vladivostok for film festival

A number of Hollywood’s most famous faces, including Adrian Brody, Stephen Baldwin and Michael Madsen, have arrived in Russia’s Far East port city of Vladivostok for the annual Pacific Meridian International Film Festival. The event, which kicked off last Saturday, will show around 160 films from Russian, Asian and American directors, as well as art exhibits, workshops and Q&A sessions with Brody and Baldwin. Madsen, known for his role starring in blockbuster hits including Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill, will sit on the international jury. 

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Jackie Chan is also in Vladivostok to begin filming The Old Soldier, directed by Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. The shoot marks a return to major foreign filmmaking in the eastern city after a long hiatus. 

The film festival was launched in 2003 in a bid to foster cultural exchange between Asia-Pacific countries. It will run until 19 September. 

  • Text: Nadia Beard
September 16, 2014

Olympic gymnast-turned-lawmaker to head pro-Kremlin media holding

Alina Kabayeva, the Olympic gymnast-turned-State Duma deputy, is to chair the board of directors of National Media Group, one of Russia’s largest pro-Kremlin media conglomerates, after resigning from her six-year stint as a lawmaker for the ruling United Russia party.

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National Media Group, owned by billionaire Yury Kovalchuk, controls some of Russia’s most influential pro-Kremlin TV and radio stations, including Channel One, REN TV and Izvestia, all of which serve as platforms for biting critiques of the west and dissident Russians. Following the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 earlier this year, Kovalchuk was sanctioned by the EU and blacklisted by the US for his closeness to President Vladimir Putin.

Rumours of a romantic relationship between Putin and Kabayeva have made headlines over the last few years, with the president's spokesman Dmitry Peskov denying claims last September that the pair had secretly married following his divorce from his wife Lyudmila. Moskovsky Korrespondent, a Russian newspaper owned by Alexander Lebedev, was closed down in 2008 after claiming that Putin might marry Kabayeva, although its editor cited financial reasons for the closure. 

See also:

Russian news agency Itar-Tass returns to Soviet-era name

Russian TV series demonises ‘anti-Putin’ cultural figures

Sacked Lenta editor Timchenko to head new independent media project

  • Text: Nadia Beard
September 15, 2014

Russian doctors urged to emulate medical drama House

Actor Hugh Laurie playing Dr House in hit American medical drama House

One of Moscow’s deputy mayors has urged Russian doctors to model themselves on the characters from House, the hit US medical drama. 

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Leonid Pechatnikov, head of Moscow's public health department, praised the TV series in an interview with local radio station Govorit Moskva last week, saying: “I particularly love the show House, M.D., which shows the real work of doctors. There’s never a time when they lose a single moment: they do one test, then another, some research, a rapid diagnosis followed by speedy treatment and patients only stay in hospital if they are seriously ill.”

Pechatnikov remarked that people “are admitted to hospital to get emergency or routine care, rather than to wait weeks for analyses and consultants”, adding that hospitals in the Russian capital should run on the same level of speed and quality as in the show.  

Earlier this year, British actor Hugh Laurie, who plays Dr House in the series, was criticised by Russian media after he called for a boycott of Russian vodka in protest to the anti-gay propaganda law enacted in Russia last year.  

See also:

Russia vetoes request from House of Cards to film at UN

British-Russian co-production receives film distribution in Russia

Uma Thurman stars in Russian short film

  • Text: Nadia Beard
September 12, 2014

Post-Soviet ruin photos on show in London

  • Post-Soviet ruin photos on show in London

    Priozersk XIV (I Was Told She Once Held An Oar), Kazakhstan

  • Post-Soviet ruin photos on show in London

    The Aral Sea I (Officers Housing), Kazakhstan

  • Post-Soviet ruin photos on show in London

    Priozersk II (Tulip in Bloom), Kazakhstan

  • Post-Soviet ruin photos on show in London

    The Polygon Nuclear Test Site I (After The Event), Kazakhstan

Photographs of the decaying world of Soviet-era closed cities and military bases have gone on show at London’s Flowers Gallery. For his project Dust, Israeli photographer Nadav Kander visited the borderlands of Russia and Kazakhstan capturing the remains of secret facilities used for testing atomic weapons, capturing what he calls “empty landscapes of invisible dangers” — a reference to the toxic legacy of the cynical and irresponsible experiments with radioactivity that were conducted at these sites. 

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The exhibition, which opened at the east London gallery on 10 September, is accompanied by a book featuring Kander’s photographs and an essay by novelist Will Self. A parallel showing of pictures is being held at Les Recontres d’Arles photography festival as part of an exhibition of Prix Pictet laureates. The show at Flowers Gallery runs until 11 October. 

Read more:

Beauty and the east: allure and exploitation in post-Soviet ruin photography

Half life: documenting the struggle for existence in the atomic cities of the former USSR

The mighty have fallen: elegiac elegance amongst the rubble of Soviet military power

All pictures copyright Nadav Kander and courtesy of Flowers Galleries

  • Text: Jamie Rann
September 09, 2014

Google celebrates Tolstoy’s birthday with special Doodle

Novelist, freethinker and noted beard-wearer Leo Tolstoy would have been 186 years old today. In honour of the occasion Google has launched a special animated Doodle featuring portraits of the author and scenes from his most famous novels. 

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The interactive illustration, which was drawn by Russian-born San Franciscan Roman Muradov, includes scenes from War and Peace, Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilich. Muradov described the commission as a “daunting task”, saying: “No set of images can sum up a body of work so astonishing in scope, complexity, and vigour — its memorable scenes come to life with seeming effortlessness.”

Tolstoy was born on 9 September 1828 at Yasnaya Polyana, the estate of his aristocratic land-owning family where the author went on to spend his declining years. After serving in the army during the Crimean War, Tolstoy went on to become not only one of Russia’s most famous authors, but also an influential pacifist and unorthodox Christian thinker.   

This is not the first Russia-themed Doodle this year: during the Sochi Olympics, Google’s rainbow-coloured illustration was interpreted by many as an oblique criticism of state-sponsored homophobia in Russia. 

Meanwhile, in Russia, the Moscow City Government has declined to adopt the branding concept developed for it by Art.Lebedev Studios, the city’s most prominent design house. The proposed symbol and logotype were based in part on the famous red stars affixed to the towers of the Kremlin during the Soviet Union. The concept met with a mixed response from the public, with some seeing the design as too closely tied to the past. As of yet, debates continue about creating a single unified brand for the Russian capital. 

  • Text: Jamie Rann
September 08, 2014

Director Konchalovsky wins Silver Lion at Venice Film Festival

Veteran film director Andrei Konchalovsky has won the Silver Lion for best director at the Venice Film Festival for his latest film, The Postman’s White Nights, a blend of fiction and documentary. Konchalovsky described himself as feeling like a kid at Christmas when picking up the award on Saturday night.

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His 90-minute film chronicles the lives of people living in a remote village in the far north of Russia whose main contact with the outside world is through Alexei, the postman. Continuing in his signature style of "scripted documentary", the director used only non-professional actors and let the script develop from their interactions with each other. 

Speaking to news agency Itar-Tass, Konchalovsky described the film as “an attempt to make a film using other methods, inexpensively and independently from the market as much as possible so as not to be accountable to anyone for what you are doing”. 

The son of author Sergei Mikhalkov and brother of director Nikita Mikhalkov, Konchalovsky started his career in the Soviet Union, where he directed a number of acclaimed films, including the 1979 historical epic Siberiade and co-scripted works with Andrei Tarkovsky. He moved to Hollywood in the 1980s, making his name with films Runaway Train and Tango and Cash. He has previously received two awards from Venice for anti-war film House of Fools in 2002. 

  • Text: Samuel Crews