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
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.
Oleksander Dovzhenko. The Cinematic Legacy includes the following
(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,
1932; Air City (Aerograd),
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.