Vitaly Mansky is one of the most famous Russian documentary filmmakers, the founder of the Artdocfest International Film Festival and the annual Lavr Award, awarded to Russian documentary filmmakers. At one time, he was especially noted by the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Vladimir Medinsky, who promised that not a single project of Mansky would be supported by the state. Since 2014, he has been living outside of Russia, like directors Viktor Kosakovsky and Sergey Loznitsa who left earlier. Filming and showing his films at film festivals, Mansky has traveled to many countries around the world - in particular, Cuba, Iran and North Korea, with which Putin's Russia is often compared. The immediate reason for The Insider's conversation with Vitaly Mansky was the lawsuit filed by film director and propagandist Nikita Mikhalkov against Mansky for his words about embezzlement of funds allocated by the state for the Moscow Film Festival. In September, the Ministry of Internal Affairs put Mansky on the wanted list, although without specifying under which article of the Criminal Code, and whether it was connected with the lawsuit.
- How do you feel in a situation of criminal prosecution and the inability to return to Russia?
There is nothing pleasant about her. Entry into Russia threatens me with arrest, and all plans related to work on Russian territory have to be canceled or postponed indefinitely, which my colleagues call PJ - “As long as Putin is alive.” But, of course, this does not apply to remote connections with Russian documentary filmmakers - Artdocfest will hold pitching sessions, where Russian authors, too, can defend their projects and receive funding. In addition, the Russian public is important to us - for them, the Artdoc.Media portal will continue to upload relevant films that cannot be shown in Russia.
— On what basis are you saying that the lion's share of the funds allocated by the state for holding the Moscow Film Festival is spent for other purposes, but, frankly, ends up in the pockets of the organizers?
— On a great personal experience as a festival producer. But I was not only involved in festival activities, but also participated in hundreds of world festivals as an author, I am friends with the directors of the largest film forums, discussed budget issues with them and know what is called festival cuisine. I worked as a top manager of the Rossiya TV channel, was the general producer of Ren-TV, where I got directly acquainted with the national television cinema industry. For example, sometimes I found envelopes with money left by my close acquaintances and friends on my desk. I had to call them and return these kickbacks, and they, looking at my face or to the side, said: “Listen, well, we didn’t want to offend you, but we understand that you are in the system and should send them you know where” . And raised their eyes to the ceiling.
- What corruption schemes, from your point of view, are used at the Moscow Film Festival?
- To answer this question conclusively, I need to study his financial statements. Then I will be able to tell which expenses are inflated compared to market prices and which expenses are inappropriate. But I don't have them, and I'm just making a value judgment about what I saw. After all, we held Artdocfest in the same Oktyabr cinema, which is used by the MIFF, showed many films, dealt with the same contractors and subcontractors, also invited foreign participants, paid for their travel, accommodation and meals, also hired translators, but with an incomparably smaller budget. After all, the Mikhalkov festival received from the state twice as much as all the other dozens of Russian film festivals combined. And just as a professional producer, watching a film, can estimate the cost of its production, so I, having watched the MIFF for many years, can estimate its real price and say that it is not worth the money allocated for it. To use the analogy of construction, these funds could have been used to build a palace, and not a summer house, which they put together and covered up with paper reports.
With these funds, it would be possible to build a palace, and not a summer house, which they put together and covered with paper reports
- And the state audit did not notice the linden?
Either he didn't notice, or he read it with his eyes wide shut.
- If we are not talking about festivals, but about the cinema for which they are held, what happened in Russian documentary filmmaking after February 24, 2022?
She either did not have time, or did not want to respond to what happened. I'm talking about those films that are already finished and that I've watched over four hundred in the last couple of months, and those that are in production or exist in projects. So, there has been almost nothing about Russia’s actions in Ukraine, or about their reflection in the minds of people since 2014. By and large, there was only one talented and voluminous picture taken from the positions of the “Russian world” - Sasha Kuprin's Incense Navigator. After February 24, I saw a couple more professional works, also advocating for the “Russian world”. And among the films with anti-war pathos, one should name the powerful “Breaking Communications” by Andrei Loshak and several other programs, for example, the work of Katya Gordeeva.
Since 2014, there has been almost nothing in Russian documentaries about Russia's actions in Ukraine, or about their reflection in the minds of people.
- In your film "Relatives" in 2016, the interpersonal conflict around Russian-Ukrainian relations is also shown.
— Yes, but it refers to the events of 2014. "Breakdown" was filmed in hot pursuit and in a different genre - such, I would say, the current YouTube documentary.
- What is the reason for such a small number of topical and professional films?
- There is a whole range of reasons that lead authors and producers to decide not to enter this river, not to take on sensitive topics. This includes increased censorship, and fear, and the understanding that a non-propaganda documentary film will not receive state support, and there will be nowhere to show it - they will not let it in not only in film distribution and on TV, but will not even be allowed to Russian festivals. Look at the programs of the festivals that took place after February 24th. For example, Docker. It seems that it is taking place under Andropov - there is nothing of what the world is living now.
It seems that the festival takes place under Andropov - there is nothing of what the world lives now.
- Judging by the docking program "Windows to Europe", it was the same on it. And how do foreign festivals behave?
- Many people refuse Russian films, regardless of their quality and direction, under pressure from public opinion and the demands of the Ukrainian side.
Loznica denounced such refusals and demands. And how do you feel about them?
- I am ready to discuss this topic only after the end of the war.
— How will Artdocfest, expelled from Russia, develop?
– in 2020, the international festival “Artdocfest/Riga” was established in Latvia. And, of course, we will not only show films with anti-war pathos, but also finance the projects of independent authors. At the same time, we included in the regulations a ban on the display of paintings produced with the participation of the Russian state.
— Why was your agreement terminated with the last Russian venue in Oktyabr?
- Half an hour before the opening ceremony, we were forced to re-sign the contract, and our partners did not hide the fact that they demand this against their will. The new agreement stipulated that any incident would result in the closure of the festival. And ten minutes before the start of the ceremony, an announcement was made over the loudspeaker that the cinema had been mined and a demand was made for everyone to leave the Oktyabr. We nevertheless showed films, so to speak, underground, at various Moscow venues, but we will not do this anymore. Now we are closely engaged in the preparation of "Artdocfest / Asia" in Almaty and Bishkek especially for Russian authors.
— What is the position of documentaries in Iran, North Korea and Cuba compared to Russia?
- I remember how in the 90s, when I shot Grace, a plump letter came from Iran, 95% of which was occupied by oriental compliments, at the end it said: “We really want to show your film, but, unfortunately, it contains a frame where the heroine is sitting in a dress with short sleeves. Could you re-shoot it?" The heroine was then about 80 years old.
- Significant moment. And what did you pay attention to in Iran itself?
- On a huge interest in what was not censored by the state. At the Tehran International Film Festival, there were queues in front of each hall and one could feel the hypertrophied, even somewhat ingratiating attitude of young spectators towards foreigners, approximately like we had towards foreign guests of the Moscow International Film Festival in 1982. People who had something to do with cinema were constantly approaching, asking for an email, and upon my return for another year, if not two, letters came with offers of cooperation. We also receive applications from Iran every year - now there were more than 300 of them. I think other festivals receive the same amount, since in Iran it is unlikely that Artdocfest is distinguished from some kind of Radiant Angel. But they are very eager to escape from their closed space. As far as films are concerned, I am not the most professional film reviewer and I may turn out to be one of those blind men who, in the parable, felt the elephant, that is, draw conclusions from parts that cannot be used to judge the whole. One way or another, Iranian documentary reminds me of Russian pre-perestroika, when films were released, for example, about the prospects of a pioneer organization.
- Which today they are going to take out of the coffin, drink and resuscitate. It's time to make a movie about the posthumous life of a pioneer. Or zombie pioneers.
- And there are films, not only documentaries, which seem to imply a certain problem, but it is not called. Like the films of Abdrashitov and Mindadze of the same pre-perestroika period, “The train stopped”, for example. Something is wrong in the Danish kingdom, and what is wrong remains unspoken. Or a picture of Panahi about two girls who, in disguise, enter a football match where women are not allowed <In July 2022, Iranian director Jafar Panahi was arrested and imprisoned for 6 years for "anti-government propaganda" - The Insider>. Boring, like the films of the Gorky studio of the mid-70s, but she was applauded by the crowded hall of the Berlinale, and she seems to have received a prize. By the way, the closing of the Tehran festival made an absolutely indelible impression on me - I have never seen anything like it in my life. Firstly, foreign guests, who were enough for two minibuses, were brought to a certain center where there were no people standing in line to get to foreign films, but there was a completely different audience, which caused me an incomprehensible wary feeling. Dressed as if they had come to a mosque, they are clustered in some groups, women are sitting on the floor ... A command sounds, they go into the hall and fill it - with the exception of one row of empty seats. At some point, a group of men in suits and ties appears, sits down in this row, a very long ceremony begins, and I see that these people do not look at the stage at all - they doze, talk, but do not leave the hall, and so two and a half hours. The ceremony ends, we go out into the courtyard, where field kitchens are deployed. This group is fed, given dry rations - rice, sugar, vermicelli, a bottle of water, put on a bus and taken away somewhere. Understand as you wish.
Panahi was very critical of the Iranian regime. He said that it would end in the same way as the Soviet one, but faster. And when he was asked if he was afraid to say this in an interview that would be published, he replied that there were incidents when they were imprisoned for this, but since then filmmakers have achieved a certain independence from the authorities. And if something happens to him, then the world public opinion, which they fear, will be able to protect him. However, already in 2010 he was sentenced to six years in prison, then transferred to house arrest with a ban on making films, but he continued to shoot and his films were still awarded at prestigious shows. And in July, Panahi was arrested and sent to prison . Do you, as a person who is threatened with the same thing, understand this behavior of the regime?
- I understand that any totalitarian system should set examples of the suppression of dissent. A specific reason for this is not necessary, but in this case it arose - Panahi supported colleagues who had been arrested earlier. Let me give you a closer example: in the Russian program of Artdocfest, intended to be shown in Moscow this year, there was not a single picture that did not comply with the law or contradicted the official interpretation of what we are witnessing - a special military operation, Putin's endless rule, and so on. But independent film screening as such is unacceptable to the authorities. The situation in Iran is similar. And some more details: there is no Q&A at the Tehran festival, that is, after the show, neither answers to questions nor discussion are provided. And before going on stage, I was instructed that it was impossible to say anything other than words about the picture. When I left, several people asked me questions, but there was no translation, and they were ordered to be quiet. We were also taken to the Iranian cinema museum. There is no mention of Panahi in it, but there are figures of other directors made of papier-mâché about thirty years ago - some behind the camera, some at the editing table. Dust accumulated in the wrinkles of faces has eaten into the paper, the costumes have faded and the hall of fame of Iranian cinema has become like a warehouse of abandoned things.
- Very clear. We are moving to the Far East.
- I know the cinema of North Korea better, as I studied it, preparing for the filming of "In the Rays of the Sun." To ingratiate myself with the Korean establishment, I decided to host a retrospective of North Korean documentaries at Artdocfest. They sent twelve and I said we'd show them all. They went into a long thought, then said: “No, let's have six. These ones". Okay, let's have six. They again plunged into thought and said: "No, let's show two of these." I say: “We wanted to do a representative retrospective. Let's at least three. "No, two." The ambassador of North Korea came to the screening. I was very worried, before the session I walked around the foyer and begged my acquaintances who like to ask sharp questions not to ask anything. Let the Koreans say a few words, we applaud, and let them go back.
It seems to me that in Iranian and North Korean films, propaganda posters are the starting point for dramaturgy. But the Iranians are trying to humanize the poster scheme, that is, to give a semblance of real relationships in films, while the North Koreans literally animate the poster images, preserving all their stiltedness. In addition, there are no sexual connections in North Korean paintings at all. Moreover, in its entire seventy-year history, a kiss has never been shown on the screen, and only in one film there was a hint of it, when a love couple took shelter from the rain with an umbrella that hid from the audience what they were not supposed to see, and only when the umbrella was rolled up, one could guess what happened under it. After returning from Korea, I told someone about this, and some important Korean scholar turned on me, who said that I had a very primitive perception, and gave five films that allegedly involve sexual relations. In one of them, a South Korean intelligence officer, trying to “seduce” a North Korean fighter, looks at him with a languid look, and in the other, the girl of the deceased soldier looks at his photograph, and subtle viewers should have understood what was between them from the loving feelings reflected on her face.
In the entire 70-year history of North Korean cinema, a kiss has never been shown on screen.
- An important Korean scholar could object that eloquent silence is a well-known device, and that we have before us deep episodes that develop the spectator's imagination. And the wonderful director Grigory Chukhrai once said that he did not need a direct demonstration of love manifestations on the screen ...
- Naturally. After all, the first and only case of the appearance of a naked woman in Soviet cinema was with Dovzhenko. But I wouldn't have anything against screen chastity if it wasn't forced and mandatory.
- We are flying across the ocean to the "Island of Freedom", as the Soviet newspapers called Cuba. How are things with liberty?
- The situation in Cuban cinema differs sharply from that in Iran and is more in line with the internal code of life in Cuban society. Cubans allow themselves what neither North Korean nor Iranian filmmakers can. As a member of the Oscars, I watch a Cuban film every year and see that they have completely European works and even arthouse. This year I saw a film with a very complicated plot and pronounced homosexual relationships. In Cuban cinema, questions of the ideological and political state of the country are not raised, but interpersonal relationships are shown frankly and realistically. Then, my friend Jean Pere, former director of the Swiss film festival, has been lecturing at the Cuban film academy for quite a long time, and the very fact that they allow European teachers speaks of their openness. В кубинской документалистике много прикладных картин, и немало таких, которые жонглируют экзотическими ингредиентами кубинской жизни, и эта экзотика — ключ к дверям в пространство Кубы. Я сам воспользовался им, когда снимал «Родина или смерть», поскольку там серьезная цензура и серьезные ограничения для желающих снимать. Но картинам, где много экзотики и мало повседневной реальности, они разрешения дают. И нас пустили в надежде на то, что мы будем экзотичны.
— Как отнеслись к вашим фильмам северокорейцы и кубинцы?
— Ни там, ни там они не показывались. Но на Кубе эксцессов не было, а кубинский посол и его жена, которым я показал картину в Москве, даже прослезились во время просмотра, и сказали, что надеются, что наступит время, когда ее можно будет показать кубинским зрителям. А когда мы показывали «Patria e Muerte» в Майами, тамошнее кубинское комьюнити снесло входные стеклянные двери в кинотеатр. Северокорейские СМИ «В лучах солнца» не заметили или сделали вид, что не заметили, но когда картина пошла по экранам в Южной Корее и в Штатах, она вызвала, без преувеличения, огромный резонанс. На показ пришло все южнокорейское правительство и президент страны, а по ТВ чуть ли не каждый день проходили многочасовые дискуссии, все газеты написали о ней, я выступал в парламенте, у меня брали десятки интервью, узнавали на улице, говорили, что никогда еще не было такого шума вокруг документальной ленты. Северная Корея была вынуждена отреагировать, но не на внутреннюю аудиторию, а на внешнюю через свои агентства типа наших «Раша тудей» и «Россия сегодня». Выпустили несколько разгромных материалов, герои фильма давали комментарии… Мне кое-что перевели, там мама девочки говорила, что их снимали скрытно, они вообще не знали, что снимается кино, что режиссер избивал съемочную группу, что все это придумано и неправда — словом, трэш.
— Ну что ж, пора подвести итоги сравнительного рассмотрения четырех кинематографий. Как вы располагаете их в порядке убывания свободы творчества?
— Куба, Иран, Россия, Северная Корея.
— А тенденции?
— Россия, которая в девяностые годы была на первом месте, опустилась на третье и продолжает сползать вниз. Но так, как в Северной Корее, не будет ни в одной стране мира.
— Потому что это аномалия, которая возникла в результате стрессовой ситуации, помноженной на историческую фазу и национальные обстоятельства. Как будто в результате ядерного облучения родился монстр. Второе сочетание этих факторов невозможно.
— Тогда где тот предел и тот идеал, к которому стремится Россия?
— Обкоцанная Российская империя до отмены крепостного права.
Беседовал Константин Заметин