October 1, 1996

The Tenth Parnu International

From Werner Herzog and Paul Berriff's <em>Les­sons of Darkness</em>

In 1986, Mark Soosaar founded the International Visual Anthropology Festival (IVA) in Pärnu, an Estonian resort. Many believed this development merely a dalliance of perestroika: when interest in perestroika would wane, who would care about Pärnu?

As perestroika and glasnost pass into history, the small Pärnu IVA—held at the Chaplin Art Center—celebrated its tenth anniversary, 7-14 July 1996. On a wall of the Center, three unique country handmade coverlets are displayed. One of them shows a symbolic tree of life with its roots and branches and songbirds in its crown. It's a fitting symbol for the IVA: the trunk of the tree is the solid line of anthropological films; its "branches " are those documentaries of mixed genres; and the "crowning" by these branches attracts "songbirds" from all over the world! The compet­ing films represented Russia, Lithuania, the United States, France, Hungary, Switzerland, China, Bulgaria, Mexico, with filmed locations including Nepal, Indonesia, India and other exotic lands.

The main prize was awarded to the documentary Scastje ("Happiness") or Paradise by Sergey Dvortsevoy. In the West, this Russian Kazakhstan film has already received considerable attention. It joins a significant body of work about people who are still remote from civilization, without television, books, dentists, etc. In the '60s, the Kirgiz director Bolot Shamshiev pro­duced Manaschi (1965), featuring an au­thentic performance of the Kyrgyz epic Mana in the oral tradition of folk narra­tors; and Chaban ("Shepherd" 1966), winner of the grand prize at Oberhausen. (Kyrgyzstan is a small alpine country that borders China and is located next to Kazakhstan.) Thirty years later, Sham­ shiv's work with "forgotten people" was recalled in the viewing of Dvortsevoy Paradise.

A stunning entry on the Pärnu program was Werner Herzog and Paul Berriff's Les­sons of Darkness, "a requiem for an uninhabitable planet," that received the jury special award. This poetic vision revealed the miracle of metaphors and symbols in documentary, a unique picture to touch the emotions and sparkle our individual associations. (When IVA founder Mark Soosaar learned about the jury special award, he decided spontaneously to add to this award one of the unique hand woven Mukhu carpets on display.)

Awarded for "the best film on survival problems of indigenous people," Farewell Chronicle, by the Finnish filmmaker Markku Lehmuskallio, is a clean and beautiful documentary on the changes in the lives of the Nenets people brought about by the market economy. To Be the Clan of Kevon Guns? by Vladimir Sangi was awarded the Andris Slapins Memorial Prize for the best indigenous filmmaker: the prize included the last Bolex camera used by Slapins in Riga when he was shot by Black Berets in 1991. Sangi, a Nivkh i writer, and his son Svein, discuss the prospects for survival of this small nation­ality of 2,000 members living on Sakhalin Island. Many facts raised by the film are disturbing. The fierceness of the Russian market economy threatens the survival of the Nivkhi, and the political activities of this writer and filmmaker have already earned him several attempts on his life.

The Swiss film State of Farmers by Christian Iseli won a prize for "in-depth research on a current theme." This documentary compares the stories of three peasant families to survive the pressure of economic problems, including the alarming implications of embryonic research. "The best interpretation of archival footage" prize was given to Physiology of Russian Life by Igor Alimpiev. The film focussed on how Stalin used Pavlov's discovery of conditioned reflexes for controlling millions of people.

Prediction of Chaohui, by Vyacheslav Semjonov, documents an authentic shamanistic healing ritual performed by the Evenk shamaness Kulbertinova. At 108 years old, the brightness of spirit that lives in her ailing body is truly amazing. Before Semjonov had finished filming, the shamaness herself departed into the shaman's' next—and probably much better­—world. The filmmaker's approach clearly deromanticizes the shaman's ritual: the feeling is al most as though Semjonov became a part of the life that evolved in front of his camera.

Already a recipient of a number of festival prizes, Gratian by Thomas Ciulei was recognized for "creative interpretation of a myth." Gratian, a lonely beggar in the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, is believed to be a werewolf. He takes advantage of this superstition by enjoying the graces of women who think that if they don't feed the werewolf, wolves would attack their sheep. Gratian finally goes to sleep, dragging one dirty cover after another over his head, until he buries himself under a huge pile of covers.

Vitaly Manski's Bliss, from Russia, documents a touching story of two sisters, one severely crippled, the other a full­ time caretaker. The sisters live, in a dying Russian village occupied solely by a dozen elderly women: compassion is the power that helps them to survive. Another film exploring the relatively new themes of love and compassion was the Lithuanian From the Life of Elves by the young director Janina Lapinskaste. This film highlights the self-sacrifice of a stepmother in a family with three children who never grew up. The short documentary was awarded the Viewers' Prize.

On the growing theme of immigration was Lion From Gaza (Sweden-Palestine), by PeA. Holmqvist (chairman of EDN —European Documentary Network, and a documentary teacher in Sweden). The film concentrates on Nafiz, one of the "Lions from Gaza," who fought against the Israeli occupation in 1982 and studied law under privileged conditions provided by the Communist Party. With the collapse of Communism, Nafiz moved to Sweden. Now after 13 years in exile, the film chronicles Nafiz return to his homeland. Ashamed of his prolonged unemployment, and unable to recapture the trust of his friends, "the Lion " returns to Sweden where we find him still looking for a job. PeA Holmqvist's film sparked spontaneous and seemingly endless discussion over immigration problems: the festival's short­ age of awards meant that there wasn't one for this wonderful film.

That shortage affected other noteworthy films, especially in the category of art films. The Misfits­—30 Years of Fluxus by Lars Movin (Denmark-USA ) is important especially for viewers in East­ern Europe where students have so long been deprived of Western art. Another film, I Am by Markku Lehmuskallio, is the result of profound research on the ancient art of the Nordic people.

No commentary on the IVA Film Festival would be complete without recognizing the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of Pärnu, a small Estonian seaside resort situated on the warm and windless Pärnu Bay, an atmosphere that helped to focus on films and made the participation the festival almost pleasant experience.

 

A renowned Estonian film critic and author of a book on Andrei Tarkovsky's (The Mirror of the Time, 1980), TATIANA ELMANOVICH came to the United States in 1989 and writes about American cinema for Estonian free newspapers and magazines.

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