Cinenews Archive

Dovzhenko Legacy Enriches Columbia Collection

In May 2007, the Ukrainian Film Club of Columbia University, the largest collection of classical and contemporary subtitled Ukrainian films in North America, received a valuable addition: the complete cinematic work of Oleksander Dovzhenko (1894-1956). Universally considered to be one of the world’s most important filmmakers, Dovzhenko is primarily remembered as the author of such masterpieces as Zvenyhora (1927), Arsenal (1929), and above all, Earth (1930). Of Dovzhenko, Charlie Chaplin noted that “Slavic cinematography gave the world only one filmmaker: Oleksander Dovzhenko.” Such recognition aside, Dovzhenko’s life and oeuvre have been placed within the Russian Imperial canon, organically alien to him. Some try to reduce Dovzhenko to a tired and constricting stereotype—the Ukrainian peasant balladeer. Despite the considerable attention he has drawn from cultural historians over the last few decades, Dovzhenko’s work today remains elusive and open to widely opposing interpretations. Besides the three above-mentioned films, his other work has remained virtually unknown, inaccessible both to experts and to wider audiences. In North America, one can only purchase two of his films, Arsenal and Earth.

The unique DVD collection entitled Oleksander Dovzhenko: The Cinematographic Legacy makes all his extant work available to the world. Created at the initiative of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine, this 10-DVD set is composed of the films Dovzhenko made himself, including the unique footage of his unfinished feature narrative, Goodbye, America!, as well as films written by him and directed, after his death, by others, most notably by his wife Yulia Solntseva and, in one instance, Andry Donchyk. The DVD set represents all the known feature narrative and documentary films he made, with the exception of his first comedy Vasia the Reformer (Vasia reformator, 1926), which is believed to have been irrevocably lost. The set does however include the screenplay of the film, which Dovzhenko co-directed with Favst Lopatynsky.

Each film in the DVD set has undergone a process of image and sound restoration. Each is supplied with subtitles in Ukrainian, Russian, English, and French.  Zvenyhora, Arsenal, and Earth are in two versions: the first, the original silent version, the second, the re-edited version with musical accompaniment added in the 1970s. According to the collection’s foreword, “all Dovzhenko’s films are furnished, where possible, in their original version without any ideological adaptation of the Soviet or post-Soviet era, with minimal interference in the interpretation of the works.” The set is accompanied by an annotated catalog with a chronology of Dovzhenko’s life and work, as well as a brief description of each film.

The DVD set includes unique footage: the (until recently) inaccessible scenes— Dovzhenko himself playing the part of a ship stoker in the early political detective thriller, Diplomatic Pouch (1927), the only known instance when he appears as an actor in his picture; Dovzhenko speaking to peasants in Western Ukraine in 1939, after the occupation of Western Ukraine and Belarus by the Soviet troops. Of some interest is Yulia Solntseva’s film, The Unforgettable (Nezabutnie), based on Dovzhenko’s screenplay, Ukraine in Flames (1944). The screenplay and its author were denounced by Stalin at a meeting of the Bolshevik Politbureau on January 30, 1944. Stalin’s denunciation marked Dovzhenko’s final fall from grace with the Soviet regime. The text of Stalin’s speech is also part of this set.

It was initially announced that Oleksander Dovzhenko. Cinematic Legacy would be issued in a limited edition of one thousand copies. In actuality, only ten such sets were printed. The sets are not for sale and are distributed as gifts by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It is unclear when and whether the set will become commercially available to a wider audience.

The Ukrainian Film Club of Columbia University plans to hold a series of special events both on the Columbia campus and beyond Columbia, at the invitation of other organizations, to popularize the cinematic legacy of Oleksander Dovzhenko in North America.
Yuri Shevchuk

Oleksander Dovzhenko. The Cinematic Legacy
includes the following films:
(To get a detailed description of and stills from a film click on the respective film title)
Vasia the Reformer, 1926, a satire of the New Economic Policy period. This film was believed to be irretrievably lost. The set includes the text of its screenplay written by Dovzhenko who co-directed it with Favst Lopatynsky.
Love's Berry (Yagodka Liubvi), 1926; Diplomatic Pouch (Sumka dipkuriera), 1927; Zvenyhora, 1927; Arsenal, 1929; Earth, 1930; Ivan, 1932; Air City (Aerograd), 1935; Shchors, 1939; Liberation (Osvobozhdeniye), 1940; Battle for Our Soviet Ukraine (Bitva za nashu Sovetskuyu Ukrainu), 1943; The Victory in Right-bank Ukraine and the Expulsion of the German Invaders from the Boundaries of the Ukrainian Soviet Territory (Pobeda na Pravoberezhnoy Ukraine i izgnanie nemetskikh zakhvatchikov za predely ukrainskikh sovetskikh zemel), 1944; Michurin, 1948, Farewell, America (Proshchay, Amerika!), 1951; Poem of the Sea (Poema o more), 1958; Chronicle of the Flaming Years (Povest plamennykh let), 1960; Unforgettable (Nezabyvayemoye), 1967; Golden Gates (Zolotye vorota), 1969; Death of the Gods (Zahybel bohiv), 1988.

Ukrainian Film Club of Columbia University© 2015. For more information please contact Yuri Shevchuk