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Reflected glory: the spirit of Tarkovsky lives on at the Mirror Film Festival

Reflected glory: the spirit of Tarkovsky lives on at the Mirror Film Festival

A film festival in Ivanovo is using the memory of local hero Andrei Tarkovsky to kickstart a cultural revival

17 June 2013

Last Sunday, in the town of Ivanovo, 200 miles northeast of Moscow, the curtain fell on Mirror: the Seventh International Andrei Tarkovsky Film Festival. The annual festival aims, above all, to commemorate the great director — not just as a cult auteur revered across the world for films like Stalker and Solaris, but as a man of many talents. But, more than this, it’s also a bold attempt to use Tarkovsky’s talent, and his extraordinary back catalogue, to establish the region as a centre for cinema.

When the festival was first held in 2007, organisers showed a full retrospective of Tarkovsky’s works. (Remarkably for this day and age, they were all shown on 35mm film, not digital.) But now, in a strategy pioneered by its president, director Pavel Lungin, the festival seeks to find films and filmmakers that recall the spirit and style of Tarkovsky. After a spell showing known Tarkovsky favourites (in particular those on his famous “top ten” list, like The Seven Samurai and City Lights), recent years have witnessed an impressive succession of international directors such as Béla Tarr (The Turin Horse), Sergei Loznitsa (In The Fog) Giorgos Lantimos (Alps) and Julia Loktev (Lonely Planet). Previous jury chairmen have included Theodoros Angelopoulos and Ralph Fiennes. The British actor, who was in attendance again this year, is, it turns out, something of a Tarkovsky connoisseur, and now serves as one of the festival’s trustees.

“Mirror gives the whole of Ivanovo region some cultural impetus”

This year’s lineup featured ten recent art-house films from around the globe — Norway, Belgium, Bulgaria — including features, documentaries and animations. Russia was represented by Alexei Fedorchenko’s The Celestial Wives of Meadow Mari, fresh from its prize-winning turn at the recent Kinotavr Russian Film Festival in Sochi. The screening programme was backed up by an international conference, The Phenomenon of Andrei Tarkovsky in Intellectual and Artistic Culture, which was kicked off with an exhibition by Swedish journalist Lars-Olof Löthwall, Andrei Tarkovsky — My Unknown Friend.

The biggest innovation of the recent years has been to move the main part of the festival from the small town of Ivanovo to the altogether tiny town of Plyos. On the one hand, this change has cut the festival off from a good section of potential viewers — Mirror is above all a festival for ordinary cinema-goers (local citizens could, and did, come along for the closing ceremony); on the other hand, the switch of location seems like a smart strategic move: you really do get more of a sense of the power of place in Plyos, a picturesque town in beautiful scenery on the banks of the Volga, than in industrial Ivanovo.

The festival also takes in the still smaller town of Yuryevets, Tarkovsky’s hometown. Guests were given a traditional greeting with bread, songs and dancing by local residents, before Fiennes and Lungin planted a tree near Tarkovsky’s house and, in homage to one of the key symbols in the great director’s work, rang a bell.

Still from Stalker (1979)

The fact that the festival takes place in several towns at once is another plus. If only for a week, Mirror gives the whole of Ivanovo region some cultural impetus. The archive on which so much money has been spent is still of more interest to visitors from Moscow and further afield, but this example might inspire similar interest in local residents. This is the main aim of local festivals like this — to help shape a whole cultural landscape.

Nevertheless, the highlight of this year’s Mirror, and the biggest potential boon for the region, was the unveiling of Tarkovsky’s personal archive, bought at auction at the end of last year by representatives of the regional government (who exactly did the buying undisclosed). The archive was initially valued by Sotheby’s in London at 30,000 euros, but rival bidders such as Lars von Trier — a big fan of films like Mirror and Andrei Rublev — were left disappointed when the final price rose to £1.3 million. The previous owner of the archive, film critic and director Olga Surkova, followed Tarkovsky for many years, writing down his thoughts in notebooks as well as recording audio and taking photos. The archive now contains 600 artefacts that illuminate not only the director’s life, but also the whole period. It features drafts of scripts (and even the original screenplay for Mirror) and personal correspondence, including the director’s well-known letter to Brezhnev in which he asked the Soviet premier to lift the ban on screening Andrei Rublev in the Soviet Union.

“The highlight of this year’s Mirror was the unveiling of Tarkovsky’s personal archive”

There is, however, one problem with the archive as it is now: it’s an amazing resource, but it’s impossible to learn anything from it. The temporary exhibition that was put on only for the duration of the festival showed only a fraction of the material: a few photographs projected onto a wall, a suitcase, some letters and some closed notebooks. Everything was locked away under glass, and there was practically nothing available to read. The exhibition’s curator Mikhail Dmitriyev said the situation was only temporary: “All we can do at the moment is get people interested in the materials and then invite them back for a more comprehensive exhibition in the future.”

After the festival and temporary exhibition in Ivanovo, the archive will move to Yuryevets. The authorities are already building a hotel, adjoining the house he was born in, for the specialists who are expected to come to use the archive for research. The house is already a Tarkovsky museum, but it’s clearly unsuitable for an archive of this size and importance. How the present owners of the archive will extricate themselves form this situation only time will tell. Dmitriyev says that things will start moving in a couple of years, and there is even the chance of a digital version. All we can do is wait.

All Tarkovsky’s films can be viewed online.