Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waiting for a Soviet Godot

The road to nowhere in Turkmenistan
as seen in Aleksandr Gutman's
The Russians Have Gone (1990).
Continuing the Central Asian theme, I recently came across this offbeat documentary posted on YouTube by Journeyman Pictures.  Entitled The Russians Have Gone, it was directed by Russian documentary filmmaker Aleksandr Gutman in 1990 and focuses on the emigration of ethnic Russians from the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (modern Turkmenistan) during the late glasnost era.  Though it appears to be a shortened version of a longer film, it is still an enjoyable, if somewhat quirky, work nonetheless.

Oddly, Journeyman's accompanying description of the film refers to it as taking place in Armenia in the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake.  This error most likely derives from the fact that they confused this film with another Gutman documentary called Frescoes (2003) which dealt with the aftermath of the 1988 Armenian earthquake.  You can watch that film in its entirety online here.

In any case, this film possesses a strong postmodern quality to it and, as the YouTube description even states, it almost has "the feel of a Beckett play."  Set against a landscape blighted by desolation and industrial decay, the work includes footage of dromedary camels lazily strolling into rundown cities, Turkmen children reciting Mayakovsky, and prisoners marching dutifully behind a wire fence.  It also includes thoughts from a local immigrant from Daghestan who notes that while most of the Russians and other Soviet nationalities have left, he has decided to stay and learn the Turkmen language.

The Russians Have Gone was Gutman's third documentary film and it won awards at international festivals in Egypt, Finland, and Belgium.

UPDATE (26 February 2017): Journeyman uploaded Gutman's full film on YouTube in June 2016, just four months after the filmmaker's passing on 17 February 2016.  Notably, Journeyman still oddly and erroneously insists that that the film is about Armenia rather than Turkmenistan.