'There are no different truths': the last years of Soviet cinema

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A new season at the Barbican tells the story of the USSR’s final generation through the lens of its pioneering film-makers

“Young people are our big hope, but they spell trouble for us too.” In 1965, an administrator at the Leningrad film studio, Lenfilm, summed up an enduring dilemma for Soviet official culture. How could the Young Communist League (on paper a “public organisation”, in practice entirely subordinate to the party leadership) mobilise the younger generation without promoting political enthusiasms of the wrong kind? Soviet cinema – a young art form with particular appeal to the country’s youth – was, throughout its existence, a showcase for conflicted views of young people. Its own fate, too, altered as attitudes to them changed.

In the first years after the October revolution, youth activism was strongly encouraged in life and on film. Sergei Eisenstein was just 27 when Battleship Potemkin, with its martyred young leader of a naval mutiny, made him world famous. But views of political participation by children and young people changed abruptly under Stalin. Eisenstein’s Bezhin Meadow, in which a tow-haired boy leads the assault on traditional village life, ran into trouble in August 1936. This came a month after a crackdown on child psychology, which was considered “perverted”, and at the point when patriotic values were returning to the school syllabus.

Generations: Russian Cinema of Change is at the Barbican, London, 26-30 September

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Link : ‘There are no different truths’: the last years of Soviet cinema

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