Rare interviews captured in Russia

  • Researching Russian Cinema
    Researching Russian Cinema
    Andrew Andell ’13 (middle left) and Rachel Faith ’14 (middle right) spent the summer in Russia investigating the impact the film industry had on Russians before, during and after the Soviet Union. Pictured are Professor Sasha Prokhorov (left) and Elena Prokhorova (right) from the Russian studies department.
    Courtesy photo

Privet. That is the Russian word for “hello.”

Speaking a different language, meeting new people from another culture and visiting new sites are all part of the adventure one undergoes when exploring a foreign country. It can be an exciting – and intimidating – experience.

Now take all of these components and add a research project that Professor Sasha Prokhorov describes as “unique and original.”

The result is a summer experience told by William & Mary students Andrew Andell ’13 and Rachel Faith ’14. The duo – both second-year Russian studies students – conducted oral history interviews on movie-going in Russia.

“We interviewed Russians about their experiences with Russian movie theaters - what were the theaters like, who did they go with, how has the experience changed, etc.,” said Andell.  On-the-street interviews were captured with teachers such as their Russian language professor from St. Petersburg State Univeristy, Irina Leventhal, and also more familiar individuals such as Rachel’s host mother Natalia Alyrzaeva.

As these two members of the Tribe scurried about the streets of Russia, they were digging deep into the heart of an issue that made an impact on many people in a not too distant past.  Their research investigates the impact the film industry had on Russians before, during, and after the Soviet Union.

“Initially, doing the interviews themselves was daunting idea,” said Faith. “Neither Andrew nor I had any acquaintances in St. Petersburg (or Russia in general) besides our Russian tutor Vika, and I personally had no idea how we were going to find someone to interview.”

Faith’s anxieties and fears gradually subsided as the students received guidance from Prokhorov to develop the research skills necessary for the project. They enrolled in his course, "Russian Movie Theater Project," where they read about oral history scholarship and acquired the necessary research tools to complete the project. 

Their first task was to create a questionnaire – which served as a blueprint – for the interviews. They also learned how to use cameras and microphones, and how to archive the research they collected in the Swem Digital Archive as well as the Russian Movie Theatre Project blog site.

Prokhorov says that he couldn’t be prouder of his students and their scholarly accomplishments.

“Andrew's and Rachel's oral history research provides scholars with firsthand viewers' testimony on what films were popular at the time,” Prokhorov said.

Prokorhov explained that when people talk about the 1970s and 1980s they remember better such American films as “King Kong” (the 1976 feature) or “Some Like it Hot” (a 1959 film released in the USSR in the late 1980s) than Soviet big budget features. 

“The picture of what constitutes the national cinema of the Soviet Union at the time becomes more complex and multidimensional,” said Prokorhov. “The viewers receive the voice in the creating this picture, not only filmmakers and film critics.”

As part of their research, Andell and Faith had the opportunity to attend the Moscow International Film Festival. While there they viewed films entered into the competition.

“Rachel and I were fortunate to experience the film festival as part of the project,” said Andell. “We viewed two movies, ‘The Admirer,’ (directed by Vitalii Melnikov) and ‘Ana Bana,’ (directed by Eduard Oganesyan), each of which had the director and a large portion of the cast in attendance.”

Elaborating on her experience at the film festival Faith reminisced, “The film festival was one of my favorite parts of my summer trip, and one of the main things that helped me to fall quite madly in love with Moscow.

“There were all sorts of very official-looking film industry people all over the October Theater – which is an absolutely amazing theater complex – and the excitement was infectious. Once we got seated in the enormous hall where the film would be shown, it was all I could do to wait for it to start.”

Andell and Faith say they will always carry with them the memory of a summer spent immersed in the study of a different culture. Faith is currently studying abroad in Moscow this fall and Andell is back in the U.S. transcribing and archiving their research.

So for now, they’re not saying goodbye to their experience. Or “dasvidania,” as they would say in Russia.