Oleksandr Dovzhenko’s Silent Trilogy in London

On November, 16 – 25 the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts), in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute in London and the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre in Kyiv, Ukraine, presents a retrospective of Oleksandr Dovzhenko's silent film masterpieces – the so-called 'Ukrainian trilogy': Zvenyhora (1928), Arsenal (1929), and Earth (1930).


These films were recently restored by the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, and these modern versions feature new soundtracks created by contemporary composers from both Ukraine and Great Britain.  



16 Nov 20176:20 pm | Cinema 1 | £7.00 to £11.00


Through the centuries, an old man looks after his two grandsons and guards the Scythian treasure hidden in the Zvenyhora mountain. Before his eyes, as if in a dream, he witnesses one historical period after another – from the arrival of the Varangians and the Haidamak Cossacks to the First World War and the October Revolution.


The old man’s elder grandson Pavlo commits to finding the treasure, the symbol of Ukranian national identity, and becomes possessed by a gold rush, which triggers fantastic visions in the heads of treasure hunters. His younger grandson, Tymish, trades his grandfather’s archaic world of nature for a remedial school for workers and industrialisation, the signifier of Bolshevism. The brothers meet on the enchanted mountain for a climatic battle, a metaphorical portrayal of the Ukrainian civil war.


The first film in Dovzhenko’s silent Ukrainian trilogy brought him fame as an original and talented avant garde film director, but also ignited a fierce debate about the national cinema in Ukraine.


Of this film, Dovzhenko himself reflected: “Zvenyhora... is me: contradictory, visionary, often uncontrollable, quivering with an acute sense of conflict and the rhythm of all ages.”


The magic tricks of early silent films, the gloomy mysticism of German films of the 1920s, Chaplin-like irony and avant-garde editing – in a unique way Dovzhenko combined all of these elements in his epic film. 


Introduction and Q&A by Philip Cavendish, Reader in Russian and Soviet Film Studies, School of SSEES UCL and Stanislav Menzelevskyi, Programme Director of the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, Ukraine's national cinemateque


Tickets: https://uk.patronbase.com/_ICA/Seats/NumSeats?prod_id=3D7&perf_id=1&section_id=M&action=&seat_type_id=S



 19 Nov 20172:15 pm | Cinema 1 | £7.00 to £11.00

As revolutionary in its politics as in its style, Arsenal is formally the most complex of the three films in Oleksandr Dovzhenko's silent trilogy. This avant garde film was compared to Pablo Picasso's Guernica because of director's frank depiction of war. Arsenal made Dovzhenko famous not only in the Soviet Union, but also in Western Europe and North America. Ultimately, the National Society of American Film Critics named Arsenalone of the five best films of 1929, along with Karl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc.  


Thematically, the film is close to The Enchanted Place: Dovzhenko’s focus is once again on revolution and civil war in Ukraine, particularly the events that took place at the end of World War I which resulted in an unsuccessful Bolshevik uprising in January 1918 in Kyiv. In Soviet mythology, the uprising at the Arsenal factory is one of the key episodes in the tale of Bolshevik martyrdom in Ukraine. Dovzhenko, enthusiastic about the ideas of national liberation and social revolution, took the events of the uprising to the narrative's margins, ultimately creating a political film for Ukrainian intelligentsia on both sides of the barricades of the civil war.  


A vague portrayal of the opposing forces of the uprising and parallel editing of different events leave the viewer with a sense of the chaos of war, rather than with a clear political message or a forced interpretation. At the same time idiosyncratic acting, expressive lighting, camerawork and editing enable the director to bring to life the stories of individual characters and cast them into a broader historical canvas and a clear pacifist message.


This screening will be introduced by Stanislav Menzelevskyi, Programme Director at Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre


Tickets: https://uk.patronbase.com/_ICA/Seats/NumSeats?prod_id=4II&perf_id=1&section_id=M&action=&seat_type_id=S



25 Nov 20172:15 pm | Cinema 1 | £7.00 to £11.00

'Its title, Earth, is more than just a name – it is a religion,' said Siegfried Krakauer. Earth, the final part of Dovzhenko's silent trilogy, is undoubtedly the most famous and controversial movie of the Ukrainian Soviet silent film heritage. Full of lyrical pantheism and utopian exaltation, it demonstrated the ambiguity of Ukrainian geopolitical choice in the late 1920s. 
The simple plot tells the story of a small Ukrainian village on the eve of collectivisation. Vasyl, the leader of the activist youth, is trying to engage villagers into the collective farm movement while waiting for a technical miracle: a tractor, the forerunner of the new era. Finally, he ploughs a boundary separating the private plots from the collective ones. This enthusiasm costs Vasyl his life, but makes him a martyr – a necessary sacrifice for the new social order.
Although Earth fits the tradition of Soviet propaganda films, Dovzhenko’s interest in human condition and its bond with nature takes the film beyond the propaganda realm. As told by Dovzhenko, an ordinary tale of a class struggle becomes a universal philosophical parable about life and death.
Criticised severely for its naturalism and physiologism, the film was banned nine days after its release in the Soviet Union and was given a credit in Ukraine only after Dovzhenko’s death. Earth hit the headlines only in 1958, when the International Referendum in Brussels praised the film as one of the best 12 films in the history of cinema. It was voted to be one of the top ten silent films by The Guardian and The Observer.

The screening is followed by a panel discussion featuring Rory Finnin, Head of Slavonic Studies and Director of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Cambridge, and Philip Cavendish, Reader in Russian and Soviet Film Studies at School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies at UCL. The discussion is moderated by Marina Pesenti, Director of the Ukrainian Institute in London


Tickets: https://uk.patronbase.com/_ICA/Seats/NumSeats?prod_id=4IK&perf_id=1&section_id=M&action=&seat_type_id=S

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