Masha Kowell's Colloquium

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - 12:00pm

Film on Foot and en Route: Revisiting Vladimir Erofeev’s The Roof of the World (Pamir)

Concentrating on the analysis of Vladimir Erofeev’s The Roof of the World (Pamir), this paper will examine a largely unexplored and yet ideologically significant genre in Soviet documentary cinematography – “expedition” or “ethnographic” films. Produced in 1927 and released on the screen in 1928, The Roof maps Erofeev and his team’s strenuous travel to Pamir, a mountainous territory shared by Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan. This study will shed light on Erofeev’s career, identifying him as one of the pioneering documentary filmmaker-factographers who offered an alternative cinematographic language that defied modernist artists’ predilection for a heavy manipulation of the “raw material” captured on film. Erofeev marshaled his formal choices against those of Dziga Vertov, known for his fractured, vertiginous montage style. In Erofeev’s film the camera did not pretend to rush ecstatically through and over the world that it was recording. Rather, it was either planted stably on the ground or vigilantly roaming a territory that it was purportedly charting. This paper will highlight an important political role that expedition films played in a larger ideological context of the young Soviet state as a mechanism of popular integration. It will examine the reasons behind Erofeev’s predilection for panoramic tracking and long-takes. Was it a politically motivated quest for legibility of meaning that shaped Erofeev’s preference for an aesthetic “slow-down?” Or was it the raw material itself – the indigenous life-style and work conditions – that necessitated such cinematographic film-form? Finally, I will compare Erofeev’s authorial position – both a teacher and a student of his rarely seen ethnographic ‘facts’ – to that of Sergey Tretiakov, the prime theorist of the author-as-producer model of impersonal and yet activist creativity.

Cinema Studies Program
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