Locarno Film Fest: The View of a Film Educator

Being a film critic as well as a university professor of film and media studies, I was watching films at Locarno International Film Festival 2006 with several items on my agenda: evaluating and comparing them as a FIPRESCI jury member and also imagining working with them in my prospective classes.

From this perspective, I don’t think that Michael Mann´s film Miami Vice will suit for educational purposes because university students habitually watch American action films. And in my opinion, M.Mann’s film does not rise above a typical police drama level.

But another action film from Locarno program — Nomad (Kazakhstan, directed by Sergei Bodrov and Ivan Passer) — seems to me more useful for film education. It stimulates the discussion of folklore and myths, influence of American ‘peplum’ movies on the storytelling and visual aesthetics.

I think Half Nelson (US) of Ryan Fleck may be of special interest for the students majoring in education because the main character of this modern drama is a high school teacher.

The fact is, Russian cinematography has changed drastically after the collapse of the communist regime, and consequently, the strict censorship, and turned to depicting “dark sides” of life. During the 1990s many Russian films were nicknamed ‘chernukha’ (from Russian slang: dark and gloomy), thus characterizing the film atmosphere). Some Russian films touched upon the difficult situation in Russian schools. But none of these films showed teachers who use cocaine or talk with female students in the school restroom, etc. It will be challenging to study the thought-provoking American independent film Half Nelson which deals with psychological and drug problems of a teacher. But I suppose that Half Nelson will be a very good material for discussion in the students’ audience because this film gives the non-mainstream American view about modern life of an ordinary school and not quite ordinary, not “politically correct” teacher. Russian students can then compare the dramatic situation in Half Nelson with some contemporary Russian films about schools.

Another interesting subject for media education — Russian theme at Locarno Festival Program. For example, how Hollywood traditions of law dramas have their reanimation in the Swiss film La Traductrice by Elena Hazanov. In my opinion the film’s plot is rather conventional, but Russian actors Alexander Baluev and Sergei Garmash are psychologically and artistically compelling in their roles of new Russian men in power.

I also think that documentary film of Masha Novikova Three Comrades (Holland) will give my students opportunity to think critically about the crash of ordinary people’s life in the inhumane ‘local’ war situation… The topic of war in Chechnya is not new for documentary cinematograph. But Masha Novikova found the inner angle for her picture: it is not a political story; it is the story about souls, love and illusions of hope…

And then there’s Ellipsis by Andrei Eshpai, in fact the unique Russian film in the major international competition in Locarno. The way Andrei Eshpai uses the artistic tradition of drama films of the 1960s makes this movie stylistically remarkable.

And I don’t forgot of course the films of well known Russian director Alexander Sokurov, who received the Honor Locarno Festival Prize, especially his experimental film Russian Ark , filmed in St-Petersburg museum Ermitage…

It is a pity, of course, that it is impossible to transfer into the classroom the fascinating atmosphere of Locarno screenings at the Piazza Grande — with about 7000 people watching films from all over the world on the giant screen … But in spite of the smaller size of the screen at the universities it is worth showing even some clips from the Locarno Festival films to give media students the idea of the large scale of the Festival’s program.

Alexander Fedorov, 2006

Film Critic and Film Historian