The 2013 DC Shorts Film Festival running September 19-29 includes 16 films from Russian directors. More than half of the Russian films are animated.
In this second review of the upcoming DC Shorts Film Festival, the Dresser looks at Anya Belkina's "Systems Preferences." This 17-minute documentary is drawn from the life of the Russian-born artist-director but now living and working in Boston. The story concerns the computer pioneering achievements of Belkina's maternal step-grandfather Bashir Iskandarovich Rameev. Belkina narrates the film in English.
Using a combination of animated human figures and computer graphics, Belkina tells the story of her inventor grandfather living under the shadow of his father who was condemned as an enemy of the state. The young Bashir sends a letter to Stalin and is told never to do such a thing again but the young man burning with creativity and a desire to become a contributing member of his country finds a way to work within the system to create Strela, the first Russian computer, the computer that helped support launching Sputnik into outer space. In conjunction with the launching of Sputnik, Belkina uses archival footage of United States president John Kennedy speaking before the American congress about how the Russian achievement accelerated America's schedule for its own space program. Personal touches like the filmmaker being terrified of the shrunken head her grandfather brought from American and the love story about Bashir and Belkina's grandmother (seen in the image representing this film) make this film poignant.
Katherine E. Young is known for Russian translations and in her poem "Hazmat," the Dresser gets a sense of something dangerous going on between the lines that addresses to way the filmmaker's grandfather had to work surreptitiously in order to create the Soviet Union's first computer. Young's line "I subscribe to the religion of airplanes" speaks metaphorically to imaginative leaps that Bashir had to make to bring his creative impulse to fruition without getting a bullet in his skull (as mentioned in Young's poem) for daring to expand human knowledge and achievement.
After the hazardous materials crew
has cleared the rooms, I move among familiar
things, touching here and there a vase, a lamp,
straightening the absurdly clean cloth
in front of the baby's place. We are obsessed
with decay, with bodily fluids, inconvenient
remnants of our animal selves. I think
of rabbis in latex gloves scraping the blood
from Jerusalem streets, of the Muslim custom
of burial within twenty-four hours.
Surely the bone hunters and reliquary
makers, the city fathers warring over
John the Baptist's knucklebone had it right:
flesh is Essential. Flesh is Divine.
I subscribe to the religion of airplanes,
silver-winged vessels that transport a person
to realms unfamiliar, where alien temples
ennoble the hair, the nails, the body
and blood of obscure local saints. These are
my relics: a rug rescued from scissors, a cat
plucked from an engine, a book that--once--
would have won its possessor a bullet
in the skull. Some say Death's an angel--this, too,
I have seen--flash of steel wings, whirlwind
of atomized flesh, dust carpeting run,
cat, book, interior spaces and private
reliquaries, particles of shared disbelief.
Katherine E. Young
from Gentling the Bones
Copyright © 2007 Katherine E. Young