FIPRESCI.org

31.12.2005

END OF AN INSTITUTION THE MOSCOW FILM MUSEUM

Andrei PLAHOV

 

A few days ago there was a picket outside the Russian Filmmakers Union HQ building people came together to defend the Museum of Cinema which is on the verge of imminent closure at the end of this year. Banners claimed: FU is such an enthusiast it'll sell everything!, or This is not Sotheby's, museums are not for sale. It was clear who the addressees of these words were the Filmmalers Union administration, its president Nikita Mikhalkov and Mikhalkov's deputy Evgeniy Gerasimov.

The Museum was created on the initiative of the USSR Filmmakers Union and existed as its component for a long time. It was a dream come true for all Soviet cinephiles who had the opportunity to watch Luis Bunuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Kira Muratova, Alexander Sokurov, Werner Herzog and other cult figures of intellectual cinema, who were banned in the Soviet times for ideological motives and were forced from the screens in the new-bourgeois times.

For over 15 years, the Museum raised and formed a new audience a whole generation of young cinephiles, students or simply youngsters whose cultural needs were not satisfied with the standard multiplex repertoire from The Lord of the Rings to Company 9. The Museum's head, the well-known Eisenstein expert Naum Kleiman, who personally presents almost all the films to audiences, became a real guru for this new generation of demanding spectators. It's also important to note that the ticket prices for the Museum differ dramatically from those of the modern multiplexes.

Therefore the Museum of Cinema became one of the most important of Moscow's international cultural exchange institutions, a guarantor of cinematic culture. The Museum gained a serious international reputation as well: it became a place for directors' programs and retrospectives, a place where world-renowned cinema masters could show their films without fear of piracy. The Museum became a Mecca for filmmakers e.g. it was on Quentin Tarantino's wish list on a visit to Russia.

And then the Museum became a hostage of a property struggle between the Filmmakers Union, Russia, and JSC Kinocentr which lasted, under some specious pretext, for the last few years. This struggle of FU with constantly changing owners of the Kinocentr building-based entertainment center had a lot of dramatic twists and turns the seizure of the Kinocenter building by special police forces and the electricity cut off.

One of the key moments of the whole story was the Museum's transition from FU's department status to state culture institution status. It seemed to be a guarantee of the Museum's autonomy and safety. The inadequacy of this guarantee became clear when the FU sold part of its stocks to Kinocentr and the new sovereign owner of the building lawfully demanded that the Museum leave or lease its premises at inaccessible commercial prices. The deadline is December, 2005.

The Museum also became a hostage of numerous reforms of state culture departments in post-Soviet Russia. The liquidation of Goskino and the inclusion of its former structures into the Ministry of Culture put the Museum's case on the periphery of bureaucratic interests. When the future of such a cultural institution like the Bolshoi Theater is at stake, it's hard to believe that the Museum of Cinema (which one of the bureaucrats from the Ministry of Culture described as a place for doped young punks) is no less an important part of the national inheritance. Surely there will be a new building constructed for the Museum in the state cinema development program of Russian Culture 2006-2010 which includes a celebration of Russian cinema's 100 year jubilee!

So that's how it happened that only young punks supported the Museum. Only them and world famous cinema masters like Tarantino, Bertolucci and the Cannes laureate brothers Dardenne, who write letters of protest together with FIPRESCI. Yes, on the request of the Museum's German friends, former state chancellor Gerhard Schroeder mentioned the problem during his meeting with Vladimir Putin and what happened? Of course nobody up there is against the Museum everybody supports it heartily but nobody wants to do anything to solve a problem.

And heres the result: Moscow, which proudly claims it has more casinos and night clubs than Paris, is likely to become the only European metropolis without a so-called cinematheque. The Treasures of Gosfilmofond (the State Film Archive) are closed to the public. Of course there is the Illuzion cinema in Moscow but with only one hall, and it generally leans towards entertaining senior citizens, though it seems that this cinema, too, will face similar problems to those that led to the Museum closure. All other alternative cinema theatres Repeated Film Cinema, Dom Hanzhonkova (Hanzhonkov Hall /Center of National Cinema) are closed. Now the Museum is carrying out its archival work on Mosfilm, though there are no proper conditions to work in. Anyway we must be grateful to Mosfilm as well as the Ministry of Culture, who promised to provide a place for screenings twice a week, and to all other cultural institutions and modern art centers in Moscow who are ready to support the outcast. But this does not solve the problem of a new building for the Museum such as the wonderful new Cinematheque complex in Paris.

I recall my impressions of an evening more than a year ago. This was the evening of the meeting in defense of the Museum, but Naum Kleiman and I were not there we were moderators in a discussion entitled The Grammar of Time with Alexander Kluge, one of the fathers of the New German cinema. He seriously proposed changing the end of Anna Karenina, talked about Chernobyl, the Russian politician Alexander Lebed, the future of the Crimea and a Wagner concert in Leningrad during Second World War. My fears that he wouldn't find matching conversationalists were unfounded.

The Museum of Cinema audience is one of the few in Moscow that is capable of an intellectual public debate. People from the audience bravely entered into a discussion with Kluge and the philosopher Boris Groys. I had the impression of intellectual ping-pong: every phrase bouncing from one to another. There were no language barriers for them. They discussed the meaning of the German word neben compared with the Russian nebo (sky). Purely abstract philosophical images floated through the discussion. To lose such an audience would be a great misfortune. The Museum of Cinema is not about exhibits, halls or even cinema first of all it's about people.