Non-fiction Film and the Production of Knowledge in the Russian Empire
Keywords:Aleksandr Khanzhonkov, Samuil Lur’e, Aleksandr Drankov, Russian Empire, razumnyi kinematograf, early cinema, documentary films, non-fiction, Sine-fono, Vestnik kinematografii, cinema press, trade journals, educational cinema
This article explores non-fiction film in the Russian Empire, in particular the phenomenon called razumnyi kinematograf, sometimes translated as "rational cinema", a trend that emphasised and popularised the educational aspect of cinema. Emerging at the start of Russian film production, razumnyi kinematograf manifested itself in a variety of forms and initiatives. These included screenings of non-fiction films accompanied with live lectures, the creation of films on narrow scientific topics by experts in the field, special screenings at schools, and even the construction of exhibition venues specifically for showing non-fiction films. Unfortunately, because the majority of razumnyi kinematograf films are irretrievably lost, thus the cinema press remains the best, if not the only, source through which to explore the subject at length. Through analysis of a collection of cinema periodicals published in the Russian Empire between 1907 and 1914, this article provides an overview of the major categories of non-fiction films produced in the country before the Revolution and looks at a variety of razumnyi kinematograf initiatives in Moscow and beyond. It reveals how, during a brief but quite vibrant period, the makers of non-fiction films tried to compete with fiction films for the attention of audiences.
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