Enjoy Ukrainian and Asian-American cinema at the Film Center

This spring, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents two series of films about countries and cultures often neglected in the popular media. The Ukrainian Cinema series is timely for obvious reasons; Through five films, the Film Center tries to shed light on the Ukrainian experience, both past and present. Running through April 7, the series highlights the role of cinema not only in relating information, but also in valuing the lives of others through art.

No film embodies these efforts more than Dziga Vertov’s 1929 silent documentary Man with a movie camera† A little over an hour, yet it towers over film history as a prime example of cinema’s ability to communicate in unique and cross-border ways. Though he was born in Poland – then part of Imperial Russia – Vertov (whose real name was David Kaufman; the alias he took roughly translates to “spinning top” in Ukrainian) made his landmark work for a Ukrainian film studio, filming it largely in Kyiv and Odessa. It revolves around the titular figure, who wanders around filming the things of life, made even more sublime by the frenetic and revolutionary montage of Yelizaveta Svilova, also Vertov’s wife.

On April 7, the Chicago Film Society will co-present Mikhail Kaufman’s newly rediscovered silent film In spring (1929) at 35 millimeters and with live piano accompaniment by David Drazin. Kaufman was Vertov’s brother and the cameraman of Man with a movie camera† this later film was made after a disagreement between the two. Using spring as a basic metaphor, Kaufman films life in Kiev with a view to the cycle of sometimes elegiac, sometimes brutal regeneration.

In a roughly translated interview, Kaufman exclaimed presciently about the film and the transformative season that inspired him, the season in which this current battle will be waged: “With all available means of expression I have tried to convey a violent turning point in nature, spring, sung by many generations of poets in lyrical terms. I didn’t want to idealize it, because destructive processes also take place in the spring. But man turns out to be stronger than poetry, he can prevent its whims and correct destruction.”

Leave a Comment