This week I’m starting to teach a new (and very novel for me) course, “Experiencing Russia Through Film”, at Santa Clara University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. This is my first time teaching a film course although I’ve done Russian history and culture courses before.
Lenin famously called cinema “the most important of all art forms”. In this course, we will explore Russia’s political and cultural history, its institutions, social norms and everyday life through the lens of the Russian cinema. We will immerse ourselves in different time periods and will try to re-imagine what it was like to live in Stalin’s Soviet Union, during the Great Patriotic War, in the time of the Khrushchev Thaw and the Brezhnev “stagnation period”, and in post-Soviet Russia by watching emblematic feature films such as “The Circus” (1936), “The Cranes Are Flying” (1957, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival) and others. All films will be shown with English subtitles, and the classes will be a combination of lectures, discussions and watching selected films. The films will also be available on YouTube and/or Netflix. We will also contemplate how the state may control people’s behavior and worldviews through cinema as an instrument of propaganda, and how the ways in which people react to films change with time and place. Parallels and contrasts with American cinema will be highlighted.
The first film we’ll be watching is “The Circus” (“Цирк”) from 1936: