Breakthrough
February 14—28
Curator: Sergey Anashkin
The "Breakthrough" programme directs the attention of the viewing public to Yakut cinematography of the middle of the last decade.

Yakut cinema is a highly distinctive epicentre of ethnic cinema in Russia; a "small industry" that paradoxically enjoys a combination of stability and dynamism

It originated in the mid-eighties. Two opuses claim the status of "the first Yakut film" – Alexei Romanov's short film Mappa and a television film by Anatoly Vasilyev entitled The Old Toy, both filmed in 1986. The first stage in the formation of the cinema of the Sakha Republic came in the nineties. In 1992, by decree of the President of the Republic, Mikhail Nikolayev, the national studio Sakha-Film was founded, and has been in operation to this day. A characteristic feature of this initial period in the development of local cinema was the predominance of educational goals over commercial ones, due to both the ideological situation and economic factors. A gamble was made on adapting short prose works from among the classics of local literature. The intention was to have a national cinema that would contribute to the process of national construction (the ethnic self-determination of the Sakha people, who would thereby gain "mental autonomy", and find their own place in the cultural space of the new, post-Soviet Russia).

The most notable films of the first half of the 2000s (the "noughties") were made by graduates from the Higher Courses for Scriptwriters and Directors – Nikita Arzhakov and Vyacheslav Semyonov. 2004 saw the first independent Yakut film, My Love (directed by Sergei Potapov), celebrate its premiere at the Tsentralny cinema theatre. The box office success of this picture stimulated the emergence of several private companies. In the latter half of the decade, the Yakut film industry's genre repertoire took shape, remaining relevant today, and its main economic model was established. The film-going public was found to prefer melodramas, comedies and horror films above other genres.

The economic model of Yakut cinema was based on a very sound calculation: the number of potential viewers is limited by the population size of the Sakha people (numbering 480 thousand, according to the 2010 census), and so project costs must be reasonable, otherwise distribution in the theatres would not bring in the expected income. The standard budget for a Yakut movie in the later 2000s and the first half of the 2010s ranged from one to three million rubles. An important factor that influenced the boom of Yakut cinema was the specifics of local film distribution. The Republic's cinemas, reviving after the crisis of the nineties, had retained their independence from the major Moscow companies, and therefore reserved the right to select their own repertoire.

The majority of directors did not have any specialist qualifications (at best, they had graduated from a theatrical university). The economic model set the limits of their directorial freedom. The filmmaker was given the chance to reveal his own individuality – within the framework of the established canon. But the European concept of the "omnipotence of the author" was a long time in taking root in Yakutia: films had to meet the expectations of the local public; otherwise they wouldn't be able to pay for themselves.

The stage of maturation and of building a special identity lasted about ten years (from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s). But fateful changes were forthcoming in 2015-2016. Yakut films then found their way to the Russian festivals (Motion Omsk, the Kazan International Muslim Film Festival, and the Vyborg Film Festival), and the Seoul Art Cinema presented the first foreign retrospective of films from the Republic of Sakha.

The local film industry began to receive recognition – beyond the borders of Yakutia – as an original cultural phenomenon. And this had its influence on its subsequent festival fortunes – over time, Yakut directors would come to amass a highly respectable collection of festival prizes (including Kinotavr, Kinoshock, Vyborg, the Moscow International Film Festival, and Karlovy Vary).

In the middle of the last decade there was a change of generations and a change of leadership on the creative scene. Sergei Potapov made his last (so far) feature film The God Dyesegei. A generation of new authors came into directing (Dmitry Davydov, Tatyana Everstova, Alexei Ambrosyev Jr., Prokopy Burtsev, Stepan Burnashev, Kostas Marsan, and Konstantin Danilov).

It was at this point that part of the Yakut filmmaking community broke away from the "insular thinking" of the past, reorienting from an internal audience to the external one. This outward movement (a rejection of the isolationist position) paradoxically united figures from opposite camps: commercial and auteur cinema. The specifics of their films meant that they were incapable of paying off at the domestic box office. The plots of pictures became more complicated, and more ambiguous types of characters appeared on the screen.

The middle of the last decade represents a turning point in the history of Yakut cinema. It has now entered its age of creative maturity, having received recognition outside the region, and has transformed from a narrow local phenomenon into a significant instance of the multi-ethnic cultural milieu of the Russian Federation.


Sergei Anashkin is the author of numerous articles published in the magazines Iskusstvo kino [The Art of Cinema], Prem'yer [Premiere], Kinoforum, and Seans [Showtime], in a host of other popular publications, encyclopaedias and scientific compilations, and on the Russian-language website KinoKultura. A member of the Union of Cinematographers of the Russian Federation and the international organisation NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema). His area of interest is contemporary Asian cinema, specialising in the ethnic cinema of the eastern regions of Russia. Author of the book O fil'makh dal'nei i blizhnei Azii ["On the films of far and near Asia"] (Moscow: NLO, 2015). Editor and compiler of the collection Sakha: The World of Mysterious Nature and Myth (Sakha: mir tainstv prirody i mifa, 2017), published in English and Korean for a Yakut films retrospective at the Busan International Film Festival. A graduate of the film studies department at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography/VGIK (1989). He has been awarded the Honorary Diploma of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and the Special Prize at the Yakut International Film Festival (2016) for his contribution to the development and promotion of Yakut cinema. Recipient of the Elephant award of the Guild of Russian Film Critics in the section "Best Articles" (2005), and the "Cinema History" (2016) and "Popularisation of Regional Cinematography" (2018) diplomas of the Books Guild. Former teacher of film history at the Russian Vocational Pedagogical University, Yekaterinburg (2013-2016). He has sat on selection committees for the Kazan International Muslim Film Festival, the Cheboksary International Film Festival, the Kinoproba International Festival-Workshop of Film Schools (Yekaterinburg), and the Kinoshock festival (Anapa).

Outlaw (Begly)

dir. Stepan Burnashev
Russia. 2014. 77 min.

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Thriller. Three fugitives leave a bloody trail behind them. They are not friends, but rivals. Which of the three will be lucky enough to survive out in the harsh taiga?

God Johogoi (Johogoi Aiyy)

dir. Sergei Potapov
Russia. 2015. 58 min.

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Documentary feature film. The plot emerges from the combination of three semantic layers: Superimposed onto the chronicle of a real event (the Ysyakh summer solstice of 2013) is a fictional story – about the meeting of a guy and a girl, about the birth of their love, and how that everyday plot, in turn, becomes overgrown with mythological overtones (the shepherd boy being likened to Dyesegei, the benevolent deity of horses,).

Unsolved Love (Nerazgadannaya lyubov')

dir. Mikhail Lukachevsky
Russia. 2015. 91 min.

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Documentary feature film. A young singer, preparing for a concert, strives to better comprehend the legacy and character of her father. Relatives and friends of the late rock musician Stepan Semyonov play themselves.

Lost (Zabludivshiyesya)

dir. Alexei Ambrosyev Jr.
Russia. 2015. 104 min.

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A drama about survival in extreme conditions. Two guys who barely know each other get lost in the taiga. To survive, they need to learn how to get along.

My murderer (Moi ubiitsa)

dir. Kostas Marsan
Russia. 2016. 103 min.

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Detective. A young police investigator is investigating a murder. It turns out that what at first glance seemed a domestic incident is a crime is connected with a lot of money. "Easy money" destroys people's souls, infecting them with greed and deceit.

His Daughter (Yego doch')

dir. Tatyana Everstova
Russia. 2016. 97 min.

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Autobiographical drama. First-year schoolgirl Tanya lives in a remote Yakut village. The girl misses her dead father, with whom she is in constant mental dialogue.

Bonfire (Kostyor na vetru)

dir. Dmitry Davydov
Russia. 2016. 85 min.

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Psychological drama. Two old men have buried their sons. One tries to live out his century in good conscience, and finds solace in helping a neglected boy. The other is obsessed with his hatred; his only reason for living is bloody revenge.