Documents of Moldavian Union of Cinematographers (MUC). Fond P-2773 at AOSPR Moldova
The present collection comprises a series of archival materials relating to the activities of the Moldavian Union of Cinematographers (MUC). It covers the period from the early 1960s to the late 1980s. The materials in this collection were selected from Fonds No. P-2773 (Uniunea Cineaștilor din Moldova), which is currently held in the Archive of Social-Political Organisations (AOSPRM) of the Republic of Moldova in Chișinău. The collection files mainly focus on a number of professional congresses of the MUC and national conferences of cinematographers, with a special emphasis on the 1960s, early 1970s, and late 1980s. These materials are revealing for the uneasy relationship of the local film industry with the Soviet authorities, highlighting the internal dynamics and competition within the organisation, but also the ideological pressure exercised by the regime.
Chișinău Strada 31 August 1989 82, Moldova 2012
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Name of collection
- Moldavian Union of Cinematographers (MUC). Fond P-2773 at AOSPR Moldova
Provenance and cultural activities
The collection includes a range of archival materials pertaining to the activities of the Moldavian Union of Cinematographers (MUC) during the communist period. These materials were selected from Fonds No. P-2773 (Moldavian Union of Cinematographers/ Uniunea Cineaștilor din Moldova), currently held at the Archive of Social-Political Organisations of the Republic of Moldova (AOSPRM). The first elements of a Soviet-style film industry were established in the Moldavian SSR immediately after World War II. In 1952, a studio for documentary films was inaugurated. However, significant developments in this regard occurred only in the late 1950s. In 1957, a fully-fledged separate Moldavian film studio (Moldova-Film) was created. Five years later, in October 1962, the institutionalisation of the profession went one step further. This new stage was marked by the official establishment of the Moldavian Union of Cinematographers (MUC), which held its first Congress on 2 and 3 October 1962. At this time, the MUC had just thirty-one full members, most of them coming from outside the Moldavian SSR. However, the early and mid-1960s proved to be a seminal period for Moldavian cinematography. From the ideological point of view, official pressure was somewhat milder, due to the renewed impetus for de-Stalinisation visible at the Twenty-Second Congress of the CPSU in 1961. This short-lived atmosphere of the “Second Thaw” had an impact on the general atmosphere prevailing during the First Congress of the MUC. References to the “cult of personality” and its stifling effect were rather frequent, while the discussion of the models to be followed for the successful development of Moldavian cinematography was relatively open, by Soviet standards. The role of Moscow as a moderating influence on the ideological zeal of the local Party leadership should be especially emphasised. It should also be noted that the majority of film productions during the 1960s and the 1970s were released in Russian, despite featuring a number of local actors. This was due to the specific character of the Soviet film industry, in which most professional training was available in Russian, but also to the fact that the vast majority of the target audience in the MSSR spoke or understood Russian. The mass impact of local cinema was thus not affected by the Russian-language dominance in the industry. Most films released in this period later acquired (informal) Romanian-language titles, by which they were known to most Romanian speakers (including filmmakers) starting from the 1980s. One should not exaggerate the tendencies toward liberalisation in the early 1960s. A significant contentious point at the First Congress of the MUC was the critical appraisal of the film Chelovek idet za solntsem / Omul merge după soare (Man Follows the Sun), a major achievement of the local film industry, released in 1961. Directed by Mikhail Kalik, one of the most creative and original filmmakers of this period, the movie was accused by the local Party establishment of “formalism,” ideological hollowness and even subversive tendencies (see Masterpiece 1). Although it was finally released for public viewing due to Moscow’s intervention, this reaction established a pattern of direct pressure and meddling on the part of Party dignitaries that only worsened during the 1970s. As noted above, the situation of the film industry in the MSSR was somewhat paradoxical, in the sense that Moscow acted as an arbiter and moderating factor and frequently rejected the restrictions imposed by the MSSR authorities, who exhibited an excessive ideological zeal. The role of Moscow was two-fold. On the one hand, an appeal to higher authorities often allowed local filmmakers to bypass the harsh criticism and ideological vigilance of Moldavian Party leaders (as happened in the case of several movies directed by Mikhail Kalik, Vadim Derbenev, and Emil Loteanu). Moscow thus had a significant role in allowing a wider margin for the film industry’s creativity. On the other hand, Moscow’s intervention also signalled the assertion of central control and hierarchical relationships between the all-union and the republican levels. The power relationships between the centre and the periphery remained essentially asymmetrical.
Another highlight of the collection is the Second Congress of the MUC, held on 22 and 23 December 1969. This period represented the apex of film production in the MSSR and the high point of the creativity of the local film industry. In the mid-1960s, the film Poslednii mesiats oseni / Ultima lună de toamnă (The Last Month of Autumn, 1965), based on a story by the famous Moldavian writer Ion Druță, who also wrote the screenplay for the production, was very well received internationally. It was awarded prestigious prizes at the Eighth International Film Festival in Mar-del-Plata, Argentina (1966) and at the International Youth Film Festival in Cannes (1967). This decade also witnessed the emergence of Emil Loteanu, the most prominent Moldavian film director of that era, as a significant figure. His reputation was already consecrated by the movie Krasnye poliany / Poienile roșii (Red Meadows, 1966). Loteanu was on the way to completing his most famous film, Lautary / Lăutarii (Fiddlers). This movie implicitly drew on Romanian folkloric motives, mostly by means of visual representation, without explicitly mentioning its Romanian sources or the impact of the Romanian cultural references in the design of the film. It was to be released in 1971. Despite these seemingly auspicious circumstances and the general optimistic mood prevailing at the congress, clear signs of a looming ideological crackdown became apparent during the meeting. Thus, both the representative of the all-Union organisation and the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Moldavia (CPM), Ivan Bodiul, openly attacked the perceived “ideological deviations” and “formalism” purportedly dominating contemporary film production in the MSSR. Bodiul harshly criticised the above-mentioned movie Ultima lună de toamnă for “traditionalism” and ideological mistakes, thus in effect signalling the Party’s intention of reasserting its monopoly in the field (see Masterpiece 2). The attitude of the regime toward local cinematography was much more assertive and intolerant than toward similarly “subversive” literary pursuits. This was certainly due to the to the regime’s constant fear of ideological contamination and to the perceived mass impact of cinema, which called for a much more “vigilant” attitude on the part of the Party establishment and much tighter ideological controls. In the context of the general hardening of the regime’s discourse and policy with regard to any ideological “deviations” in the early 1970s – be they “bourgeois nationalist” or “formalist” or “cosmopolitan” – it is not surprising that Moldavian cinematography was a victim of these repressive policies. The growing insecurity of Soviet officials in the face of the looming danger of “ideologically alien influences” from the West was especially obvious on the Western peripheries, which were under the constant threat of subversion by ingenious Western propaganda strategies (at least in the eyes of apprehensive Soviet dignitaries). The Moldavian SSR was unquestionably part of this scenario. The question of “national specificity” in the realm of cinematography was also discussed at the Congress, prompting sharp ideological rebukes from Party apparatchiks (like Bodiul himself or the secretary for ideological issues, D. Cornovan) directed at recalcitrant or “nationally inclined” filmmakers preferring “national form” to “socialist content.” This Congress thus represented a turning point in the regime’s policy concerning local film production and a decisive break with the relatively lenient policy of the 1960s in favour of enforcing ideological uniformity.
The period between 1972 and 1986, despite some important achievements by Emil Loteanu and others, was generally one of decline in terms of the quality and quantity of Moldavian films. Loteanu himself was forced to move to Moscow because of his disagreements with the local Party and MUC leaderships, and only returned to the MSSR after the onset of Perestroika, in 1986. One notable feature was, however, the closer interaction with the Romanian film industry that was visible during the 1970s, despite official disapproval of such pursuits. This tendency was noted by some observers from Moscow in the late 1980s. In general, the Moscow film establishment had a much more favourable attitude toward the “national features” of Moldavian cinematography than the Party leadership in the MSSR, reproducing a pattern familiar from other Soviet peripheries. The Perestroika atmosphere allowed an open discussion of the deep crisis in the field and the open involvement of some cinematographers in the political arena. This is obvious from the proceedings of the Fifth (1986) and Sixth (1989) Congresses of the MUC, which debated the “hot” issues of national revival and, especially, the ecological problems that became prominent as a major topic of the opposition movement during late Perestroika. During 1987 and 1988, the MUC also held several conferences and plenary meetings. The meeting held in October 1988 is especially interesting in this regard. Coinciding with the first stirrings of cultural discontent, this gathering included the discussion of a detailed questionnaire on the state of the film industry and emphasised the perceptions of the public regarding the successes and failures of Moldavian cinematography. This questionnaire openly addressed previously tabooed issues of “national specificity,” different film styles, including direct Soviet–Western comparisons, the thematic content of the movies, as well as certain ideological aspects. The answers of the respondents reflected a deepening ideological divide which was to openly erupt in 1989. Although the role of the cinematographers in the national opposition movement was much less prominent than that of their counterparts in the Writers’ Union, the tendencies within the MUC clearly pointed in the same direction.
Although it focuses on archival materials, the collection allows a plausible reconstruction of the internal dynamics within the MUC from the early 1960s to the late 1980s. One of the main conclusions to be drawn from these materials is that the Party apparatus sought to impose a much tighter control on cinematography in comparison with other related fields, such as literature or theatre. The discussions at the MUC Congresses were generally rather heated and openly tackled issues concerning Soviet cultural policy and the “ideological front” in the confrontation with the West. The exposure of the film industry to “pernicious Western influences” was perceived as a real threat, especially in the late 1960s and the 1970s, when the insecurity of Soviet officials seemed to be growing. The ideological pressure was all the greater on the periphery, as the case of the MUC reveals. Accordingly, cases of “ideological deviations” were much more difficult to control and mitigate, a fact confirmed by the controversial film productions of the 1960s and early 1970s.
Description of content
The collection consists of several categories of archival materials selected from Fonds No. P-2773 (Uniunea Cineaștilor din Moldova), which is currently held in the Archive of Social-Political Organisations of the Republic of Moldova (AOSPRM) in Chișinău. The files in the collection mainly focus on a number of MUC congresses and national conferences. They cover a time span ranging from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, emphasising the complex balancing act between the creative priorities of MUC members, on the one hand, and the ideological priorities of the regime, on the other. Concretely, the collection includes the following items: 1) the stenographic record and proceedings of the First Congress of the MUC, held on 2 and 3 October 1962 (approximately 250 pages); 2) the stenographic record of the Sixth Plenary meeting of the MUC, held on 4 March 1967 (approx. 135 pages); 3) the materials and proceedings of the Second Congress of Moldavian Cinematographers, held on 22 and 23 December 1969 (approx. 307 pages); 4) the stenographic record of a meeting of the feature films section discussing Emil Loteanu’s movie Lăutarii, held on 17 March 1970 (approx. 14 pages); 5) the stenographic record of a special meeting of the MUC, held on 29 March 1972 (approx. 168 pages, selected fragments); 6) the materials and proceedings of the Fifth Congress of Moldavian Cinematographers, held on 18 April 1986 (approx. 220 pages); 7) the stenographic record of the Fourth Plenary meeting of the MUC, held on 28 December 1987 (approx. 122 pages, selected fragments); 8) the stenographic record of the Sixth Plenary meeting of the Board of the MUC, held on 28 October 1988 (approx. 158 pages); 9) the stenographic record and proceedings of the Sixth Extraordinary Congress of the MUC, held on 26 and 27 October 1989 (approx. 120 pages), as well as a number of less interesting additional materials discussing mostly economic and organisational issues (approx. 100 pages). The stenographic records of the MUC congresses are especially valuable due to the information they provide on internal debates and tendencies within the organisation. Besides the main report drafted and presented by the Chairman of the MUC, the Congresses featured extensive discussions (often quite controversial and heated) of recent film productions. Especially in the 1960s and early 1970s, these discussions were also substantial and candid assessments of these movies. The ideological aspects were also openly discussed. The Party dignitaries present at the proceedings frequently intervened in the debates, usually to emphasise ideological deviations and problems. The most interesting case in this regard is the intervention by Ivan Bodiul, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Moldavia (CPM), during the Second MUC Congress, on 23 December 1969, in which he openly criticised several recent films for ideological reasons. The Party leadership was usually represented by lower-ranking officials responsible for ideology, but the practice remained customary up to the late 1980s. The stenographic records are generally reliable sources, providing a unique opportunity to assess the differences of opinion within the MUC and to identify members “inconvenient” to the Party line. This collection mostly focuses on the first decade of the MUC’s existence, which coincided with the most creative and seminal period in the local movie industry, as well as on the late 1980s, which witnessed the radical transformation of the MUC’s discourse due to the influence of Perestroika. The resulting image includes both the periods when the MUC was articulating an oppositional message (the 1960s and early 1970s and, later, the period between 1987 and 1989), and those years when the regime imposed its ideological constraints on a reluctant MUC membership.
- film: 0-9
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 100-499
- photos: 0-9
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Important events in the history of the collection
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Author(s) of this page
- Cusco, Andrei
Rollberg, Peter. 2009. Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Cinema. Lanham, Md. & Toronto: Scarecrow Press.
Fruchtman, Lev. 2012. "Ia rodilsia svobodnym chelovekom..." (Zametki o tvorchestve kinorezhissera Mikhaila Kalika)" ("I was born a free man" (Notes on the creative career of the film director Mikhail Kalik). www.rehes.org, January. Accessed November 11, 2017. http://www.rehes.org/lst7/lst7_k.html
Negură, Petru, interview by Cusco, Andrei, November 02, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection