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The first Australian festival of films from Russia since the collapse of the communist collective known as the Soviet Union celebrates the centenary of the death of writer Anton Chekhov; it’s a chance to glimpse into Russian culture, past and present, says festival director Nicholas Maksymov, a Sydney born Russian.

[Dates/Venues: Sydney: July 16 – 25, Chauvel and Burwood. Melbourne: August 18 – 22, Cinema Nova]

“It hasn’t been easy to get going but it has been a wonderful experience,” says Nicholas Maksymow, who has been the driving force behind the festival. A life-long lover of cinema (he would often skip school and go to the movies instead), Sydney born Maksymow has had a lot of knockbacks from potential sponsors (Russia’s national airline Aeroflot has yet to get back to him) but he also found some valuable support.

"the inaugural festival of Russian films in Australia"

That passionate lover of Russian literature, NSW Premier and Arts Minister Bob Carr, will officially launch the Russian Resurrection on July 16, the inaugural festival of Russian films in Australia, a special guest not even the Sydney Film Festival could snare. 

“The impact of good Russian cinema is like no other. It compares with a great production of Shakespeare at Stratford, or a first reading in adolescence of Dickens, Hemingway, Balzac or Saul Bellow. You participate in the experience wholly and full-bloodedly, as you would in a parachute jump,” says Carr. Russian Resurrection has a sidebar devoted to works adapted from the writings of Anton Chekhov in addition to eight new Russian films.

Tellingly, the front of the media kit for Russian Resurrection is illustrated by a vibrant photo of eight young people captured frozen in a happy, dancing moment, apparently jiving to the sound of an accordion being played by one of them. At the back, three of the figures are wearing wigs reminiscent of the 18th century – and triggering echoes of Alexander Sokurov’s astonishing film, Russian Ark. It’s a simple, clever and effective image, conveying a joy of life and a sense of fun, with a hint of history.

I say tellingly because Russians love to party – and because they are also a somewhat melancholy people for whom the sound of an accordion is enough to trigger nostalgia. And the token nod to Russian Ark is appropriate since it was on the opening night of that film at Sydney’s Russian Club in May 2003 that Resurrection was …er…born. In his introductory speech that night, Maksymow “floated the idea of a Russian film festival…but I said there was no money for it. Bob Carr was there and he expressed interest in supporting the idea.”

Maksymow also convinced himself to provide modest sponsorship support, in his capacity as manager of the Fairmont Aged Care Centre – and he convinced their accounting firm Byrons, too. The Russian Club couldn’t say ‘nyet’ and so the festival scraped together just enough money to take its inaugural flight.

"The universe was listening"

The universe was listening to Maksymow, because just as he began planning the festival, his Russian parents in Sydney were playing host to an exchange student from Russia. The student’s cousin worked for Mosfilm, the biggest studio in Russia, which last year celebrated its 80th anniversary. “Through that useful connection… and then via the Russian Embassy in Canberra, we got through to a contact at Goskino, which is the state organisation that helps to showcase Russian films all over the world.”

Maksymow set up a small committee and in consultation with Goskino, programmed his first festival.

Russian Resurrection presents eight new films, including Father and Son, Sokurov’s follow up to Russian Ark, as well as the box office hit 72 Metres and. Also on the program is the 1957 classic, The Cranes Are Flying by Elem Kilmov, and four films originating from the writings of Russia’s literary giant, Anton Chekhov. Some of the screenings include readings of his short stories by Australian actors.

The full program is screening at Sydney’s Chauvel in Paddington, with a selection of the films also screening at the Greater Union multiplex at Burwood – the suburb that is the dormitory centre of some 20,000 Russian speaking Sydney-siders. It moves to Melbourne in August.

Published July 8, 2004

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Russian Resurrection 2004

Nicholas Maksymov - Festival Director

Father and Son

The Stroll

The Lover

Poor Poor Pavel

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