Aleksey Barykin: ‘Tectonic shifts are taking place in the Russian film community’

The column of the director of the film “The Saint” about Patriarch Hermogenes — about the prospects of Russian cinema

Last week, the Kazan premiere of the film directed by The Saint director about the Holy Martyr Hermogenes took place. Among the numerous spectators, there were Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan and Tatarstan and Deputy of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation Tatiana Larionova. For Realnoe Vremya, Barykin wrote the column in which he reflects on what this means for the domestic cinema.

“The domestic cinema space is being transformed incredibly”

On July 19, the premiere of my film “The Saint” about Patriarch Hermogenes took place in Kazan, and this picture is be released in Russian cinemas already in the autumn. Meanwhile, six months ago, the release of an Orthodox documentary was almost unthinkable. Of course, some exceptions happen, but they only prove the rule.

Why is has become possible now? Because the world has changed. The domestic cinema space is being transformed incredibly.

Tectonic shifts have been taking place in the Russian film community recently. It's not just the withdrawal of Hollywood from distribution and the departure of popular artists abroad: there is a global change of worldview, a change of paradigms taking place. For a wide audience who just goes to cinemas or watches films on the Internet, this is not so obvious yet. But for those who are inside the industry, in the festival movement, working in the distribution system, the most powerful events are happening now, the earth is shaking, volcanoes are erupting, and continents are shifting. Like the surrounding political landscape, the film world is being transformed, it will no longer be different.

Six months ago, for an inexperienced viewer, the world of film stars, producers and festivals seemed like a motley Instagram mess, where everyone interacts with everyone for the sake of money and fame. In fact, the film community was divided into two irreconcilable camps, one of which clearly dominated and imposed conditions on the other. The watershed between them was along the line of “religion” — “patriotism” — “attitude to Russia”.

In the first camp, which for many years has been considered the dominant one in the country, the axioms were unambiguous. Russia is a backward, totalitarian country, from which it is necessary to go out. Patriotism is a dirty word. Victory in the Great Patriotic War is a shameful topic that makes your mouth curl. Religion is a lie. The Church is the enemy. Priests are villains and corrupt. Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky and Suvorov are shameful propaganda. According to the tradition of the nineteenth century, this camp could be called “Westerners”, and almost all the figures included in it are open and, at times, violently anti-church atheists. Most of the famous film critics, the most titled festival directors, many producers, festival organisers belonged to this camp. And, of course, this camp controlled almost all influential publications and Internet resources about cinema. In general, this is such a very powerful fist, and its main strength is that they could completely take control of public opinion, determining which films are fashionable, modern and correct in cinema, and which are not.

The second camp can be called “Slavophiles”, and believers, with very rare exceptions, belong to it. This is also a fairly powerful community, in which there are many government officials, deputies or, for example, heads of state TV channels. But it is very difficult to name well-known Slavophile film critics, bloggers, youtube reviewers or curators of Internet portals: the entire media sphere in cinema has always been controlled exclusively by pro-Western forces. By the way, the Ministry of Culture of Russia willingly worked with both camps, annually supporting films with money that expose Russia and the church in the most negative light.

“Either you sling mud on your country, or you become a pariah for the Western film community”

Why did the pro-Western camp manage to take a leading position in Russian minds? Today, one can often hear that this is the clever work of Western intelligence services, the influence of foreign agents, and the like; besides, it has long been no secret that the algorithms of Facebook, Instagram and Youtube slow down the promotion of pro-Russian projects and accelerate the development of anti-Russian ones. And yet, in my opinion, there are two natural reasons. Firstly, the Russian film distribution market has been owned and controlled by Americans for many years; accordingly, the point of view that reflected America's view of Russia automatically became dominant in the film industry. Secondly, the most influential festivals in the world, Western ones, of course, in the last 30 years have relied on films in which Russia looked disgusting. I think they did it not to spite us, but because they sincerely believed that our country is just like that, dirty, filthy, unhappy, that this is the only true truth about Russia. Accordingly, if you want to be a critic, a festival selector or a fashion director, you have no choice: either you sling mud on your country, or you become a pariah for the Western film community.

As a result, by the end of the 2010s, the pro-Western film camp completely dominated the information and ideological sphere. They managed to ensure that films exposing Russia in black became considered high art, their directors received diplomas and statuettes at festivals, and actors from these films instantly became stars and millionaire bloggers. On the contrary, any film that was complimentary to Russia was called custom-made propaganda, and their authors were called corrupt.

But the special topic, the most acute topic, is, of course, Christianity. Hatred and aversion to Orthodoxy, to the clergy and to believers in general have been elevated to cult, and they manifest themselves very inventively. It has already become a meme, wandering from film to film, when fat, unattractive priests throw back the sleeve of their robes and look at their gold watches — Rolexes, Breguets, Patek-Philippes. By the way, “Westerners” have no great sympathy for Islam and the Muslim clergy.

On the contrary, any films bearing opposite values — pro-Russian, pro-Christian, pro-patriotic, are subjected to the most severe attacks.

The pro-Western film society has always practiced a call-out culture very harshly expelled “strangers”. I have heard from several famous actors that they are on the stop list of fashionable producers and film festivals because they have publicly expressed a pro-Russian position on social networks. The brightest story happened to Yury Bykov, whom after “The Fool” and “The Major” the pro-Western film community accepted him and opened its arms to him. But when he filmed “Sleepers”, in which it was shown completely “not what it should be”, Yury was bullied, which he endured very hard.

“I really began to doubt: maybe I'm a fossil, stuck in the past, behind the world?"

Personally, I have also felt this confrontation for many years. It just so happens that I am a believer and sometimes I make films on Orthodox themes. Besides, I really love my country, since childhood I have been proud of the victory of our soldiers over Nazism, I go to the Immortal Regiment and keep the orders of my great-grandfathers who passed the entire war at home. Finally, I never wanted and now I don't want to “get out of the country” anywhere, although I have travelled almost all of Europe and spent quite a lot of time in America.

For many years I felt that I was treated down in the world of big cinema as a representative of some marginal circles; after all, I am “from these” — I shoot on Orthodox themes, I love Russia, in general, not a real director. . I have long been accustomed to the fact that Orthodox films, especially documentaries, have no place at the box office, in cinemas: after all, DC and Marvel are there, at best supposedly Russian, but in reality Disney's “Last Knight”.

And the worst thing is that I really began to doubt: maybe I'm a fossil, stuck in the past, behind the world? That my films are not relevant, no one needs them, that the whole world has switched to Western values and abandoned the Christian view of the world and will never come back again? I was so immersed in these doubts that I stopped sending my films to festivals for several years.

And suddenly, with the beginning of the Ukrainian events, incredible events begin to happen in Russian cinema. Firstly, the Hollywood owners of the Russian cinema world are voluntarily leaving our market. And secondly, all key influencers, who for many years turned our domestic cinema into anti-Russian and anti-Christian, left Russia. At that moment, as if in the spotlight, they became visible as a single, organised group, and everyone suddenly realised the obvious: it was an ingenious network of the right people, placed in the right places — in the media, at the box office, at festivals, Internet resources. And most importantly, there were not so many of them; it is even surprising that such a small number of figures could set up an entire cultural industry against their own country.

What kind of turbidity was cast on us, what kind of enchantment? Why on earth should we despise films about the exploits of our soldiers in the Great Patriotic War? Why can Americans shoot “Saving Private Ryan” and it's cool, but we can't shoot “Brest Fortress” because it's a shame? Why does American space look like “Gravity” and Russian space looks like “Paper Soldier”? Why is their “Interstellar” a work of art, and our “The Age of Pioneers” propaganda? Why does the fictional Brad Pitt kill Hitler in their films — and that's cool, and we have no right to be proud of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Mendeleev and Suvorov, even though they actually lived? And finally, why shouldn't we respect our faith, traditions and honour our saints?

When I was finishing my film “The Saint” about Patriarch Hermogenes, I saw a rather sad path ahead: the Kazan premiere, a couple of Orthodox festivals and YouTube with 60,000 views. Because in the former Russian realities, the Orthodox-patriotic dock could hardly have had any other way. But then an incredible thing began to happen: cinemas and distributors began to contact me and say that my film about Hermogenes should be released in federal distribution, because millions of people want to watch it, that the largest online cinemas and TV channels are ready to show it. Several Moscow venues offered me to hold a big Moscow premiere. I even received an invitation to do a screening of the film in the State Duma, in front of deputies.

What has happened? The country is changing, the world is changing. The poisonous veil that was in front of people's eyes fell off, and the poisoners themselves fled, giving themselves away with flashing heels. Let's love our country and be proud of it, be proud of its saints and heroes, its achievements of the past and present. To be proud of the victory in the war, to be proud that we are the first in space, that the Russians created the periodic table and the Stanislavsky system, wrote “War and Peace”, “Cherry Orchard” and “Brothers Karamazov”, “Swan Lake” and “Boris Godunov”.

And one day we will again ensure that at world festivals they welcome not “Closeness”, “Leviathan” and “Major”, but “War and Peace”, “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears” and “The Cranes Are Flying”.

Aleksey Barykin

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The author's opinion may not coincide with the position of the editorial board of Realnoe Vremya.