Moscow on the Elly: Pussy Riot Director Comes to Worcester State

By Josh Rizkalla

Pussy Riot 4Pussy Riot. What Are they?  Political Opposition Party? Feminist Activists? Punk Rock Musicians? Or Performance Artists?

This question was presented at the beginning of Maxim Pozdorovkin’s lecture: “Documentary Film and Journalism: Bedfellows or Foes? at Worcester State University on October 28th, 2014. The question, rather than the members of Pussy Riot, would be the focus of the lecture by the Harvard professor and filmmaker of films such as Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (2013) and The Notorious Mr. Bout (2014). His lecture critiqued aspects of documentaries from the unique perspective of someone who has directed them in what is often considered the “golden age of documentary filmmaking.”

He started the lecture by explaining the background of propaganda and its relationship with documentary films. When Hitler created the propaganda of Nazi Germany, he did so not by telling lies, but crafting an interpretation of the truth under the advice of Georbles.

According to Pozdorovkin, most documentaries of the time had propagandistic tendencies due to the government being the only group to put them out. This is a stark contrast from today where it has never been cheaper to create a high quality documentary.

Pussy Riot 2When Pozdorovkin went about making his documentary about pussy riot, he did so with the purpose to establish the truth that would contradict what had been established about Pussy Riot. He implemented the use of found footage of a protest the group did with a particular goal in mind.

“The idea is to introduce the dominant media account and then from there, what I take as my task is to complicate the story, to deconstruct it and take multiple perspectives to wherever the story takes me,” said Pozdorovkin. “And that’s what I take as my take as my primary responsibility, is the responsibility to what truth does the footage contain, rather than what particular narratives are there.”

With Pussy Riot, the narrative was that they were a music group with the goal of causing disruption. Their trial and the television portrayal of the group followed this perspective. The answer to the question in the lead indicates otherwise. As a performance group, the goal of the group was to display art with a purpose. The reaction of Russia to the group, unveiled the truth of their conservative nature.

Pussy Riot 1The confrontation with the established truth goes against some of Pozdorovkin’s favorite documentaries such as Food Inc. and An Inconvenient Truth, which he argued that despite aligning with the viewpoints they present, took on a propagandistic nature by narrowing the viewpoint.

When shopping his film about known arms dealer Victor Bout, he saw the perspective of some as being in line with preconceived ideas of a violent man, when in actuality, his documentary ended up featuring the home movies of the man with cheesy transitions.

Pozdorovkin wants to see more documentaries using the unpredictability of life as a way to challenge the narrative. By enabling propaganda tendencies in documentaries it opens up a susceptibility to allow it in other aspects of society.

NWS: What is the current state of Pussy Riot?

Pozdorovkin: They go around the world these days, sharing their story, I stay connected with them via social media, and the last place I saw them posting stuff from was Las Vegas.

NWS: How has Russia changed since Pussy Riot’s performance?

Pozdorovkin: The climate of the country has definitely changed. It has become even more conservative and nationalistic.

NWS: Have the Russian people been uplifted by the tale of Pussy Riot?

Pozdorovkin: These days the issues have changed. The people have moved on to nationalism issues, so concepts like feminism have sort of taken the back burner.

NWS: How was your film taken in Russia?

Pozdorovkin: It is actually banned in Moscow, and in some circles when I go back home they recognize me for it, circles of my friends and those interested in film, but as a result of the ban it is not quite as popular as it is elsewhere. It’s unfortunate really, as I go back to Russia frequently.

NWS: Does Pussy Riot go back to Russia or have they decided to leave?

Pozdorovkin: They still consider Russia their home. They still live in Moscow, and still push their beliefs to the Russian people, but have been able to travel the world with their story as well.

NWS: You spoke a lot about documentary filmmaking, any advice for those interested in that field?

Pozdorovkin: As for challenges, money is sort of the cliché issue. I would say that documentary filmmakers need to know that it is different from making a fiction film. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. And you have to get your idea out there, but you must know that there are multiple ways to express your idea.

NWS: What inspires your choices in film making?

Pozdorovkin: I like to reveal things that are difficult to reveal, and in the case of Pussy Riot, I didn’t want to show them as innocent martyrs. I also like historical characters and the aspect of humanity

NWS: What are you working on currently?

Pozdorovkin: A film about healthcare and illegal immigrants, and I am also working on a fiction film.

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