1201 International Affairs Building
420 W 118th Street, 12th floor
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Part of a trilogy of films about the USSR that began with The Event (Sobytie, 2015), Sergei Loznitsa’s The Trial (Protsess, 2018) and State Funeral (Pokhorony, 2019) are archival / found-footage films / compilation films in the style of early Soviet avant-garde documentary filmmakers Dziga Vertov and Esfit Shub, where previously existing footage was used to construct a new film “thing” by means of montage. Returning to primarily found-footage materials for the first time since The Event (which documented the 1991 coup), in The Trial (whose Russian title — The Process — suggests Franz Kafka’s novel), Loznitsa condenses an eleven-day show trial hearing from 1930 into just over two hours, alternating bureaucratic procedure and fabricated testimony with snippets of popular demonstrations, to produce “a nonfiction account of a fastidiously composed fiction.” Similarly, State Funeral, Loznitsa’s second found footage film on Stalinist period, chronicles the Soviet Union’s national mourning of the death of Joseph Stalin based on shot footage that no one ever saw: a thirty-eight minute film called The Great Farewell made by four leading Soviet directors to commemorate Stalin’s death, which was never screened during the Soviet period. Loznitsa uses footage shot in the last four days of the funeral to tell a different story from the one intended by the original filmmakers, but which nevertheless retain the “truth” of the original. Indeed, the basic structure of State Funeral is taken from Vertex’s 1925 Kinopravda #24 / Lenin’s Kinopravda (and repeated in his 1934 Three Songs of Lenin) — the model for a nation grieving the loss of its leader. This talk will consider Loznitsa’s found footage / compilation films in the context of early Soviet avant-garde documentary practices that clearly serve as the context for the two films, looking specifically at the uses and reuses of the original source material, including editing, reframing, and sound.