National Film Foundation of Russian Federation
rus_eagleФедеральное Государственное
Бюджетное Учреждение Культуры
Учредителем и собственником
имущества Госфильмофонда является
Российская Федерация

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The Soviet Kulturfilm of the 1920s and 1930s: A “New Life” for “New People”

With the support of Gosfilmofond of Russia, the Russian State Archive of Film and Photo Documents, the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv and the Goethe Institute in St. Petersburg

Kulturfilm is a hybrid of fiction, documentary and animated film. Abortions and rejuvenation, syphilis and serious accidents, bacteria and autocastration – the content of Kulturfilm was very diverse. So was the form, for that matter. The one thing that remained immutable was placing a stress on the expressivity of the shot: it was meant to captivate the attention of the viewer and remain in the memory.

Imported from Germany (from the UFA studio), hence its ‘non-Russian’ name, Soviet Kulturfilm flourished in the 1920s – 1930s. Its function was educational, but not only that: these films were a vivid reflection of the Soviet utopia, and thus designed to give spectators both knowledge and a new vision of the world.

The theme of the four programmes compiled for the Message to Man International Film Festival from 16 short and medium-length pictures revolves around the physical, psychiatric and social health and education of the ‘New Man’ in a ‘New Life’. These rare films, obtained from several important archives (Russian State Archive of Film and Photo Documents in Krasnogorsk, Gosfilmofond of Russia in Belye Stolby and the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv in Berlin), may today look extremely odd. Nevertheless, they captivate – some with their experimentation, others with the ‘social exoticism’ of times gone by.

The history of Soviet film is inconceivable without Kulturfilm: all famous directors of the 1920s – 1930s worked in the genre. Vsevolod Pudovkin shot the first classic Soviet popular science film Mechanics of the Brain, Lev Kuleshov celebrated the electrification of the country under Lenin in Forty Hearts, Boris Barnet told the story of The Manufacture of Musical Instruments, and during a stay in Switzerland Sergei Eisenstein and Eduard Tisse shot a rather risqué picture about sexual matters called Misery and Fortune of Woman. And finally, Dziga Vertov (albeit ironically) named his meta-film hit Man with a Movie Camera “Kulturfilm on Kulturfilm”…

Subsequently Kulturfilm receded to the peripheries of the film process. Yet it should not be forgotten that many leading filmmakers worked in this genre, and often it was exactly those who were most drawn to the avant-garde and to experiment (such as the former members of OBERIU, a highly radical avant-garde movement of the 1920s and 1930s).

Film historians should particularly appreciate a unique discovery – a sound remake of the first Kulturfilm blockbuster – the 1940 picture Abortion by director Noi Galkin.