Provincialising Moscow

Reviewing Cinema History from Sakha (Yakutia)


  • Caroline Damiens Université Paris Nanterre



Sakha (Yakutia), decolonisation, decentring film history, film historiography, cinema network, distribution, cinefication, projectionists


Following the regional boom in film production aimed at a local audience in the 2000s, Sakha Indigenous cinema (particularly since the mid-late 2010s) has been internationally acclaimed as an aesthetic success. Yet cinema culture in Sakha did not start in the post-Soviet years. This article intends to demonstrate the importance of contemporary scholarly work by historians of cinema culture in Sakha (Yakutia) and argues that it contributes to the ‘provincialising’ of Moscow-centric film production. This geo-historiographical decentring, all the more necessary since it comes from Sakha local cinema historians themselves, constitutes a way to the decolonisation of Soviet cinema history, in line with the larger ‘decolonial turn’ that has recently engaged scholars in Slavic studies. Furthermore, by shifting the vantage point to that of those directly involved in the film distribution and exhibition, this article seeks to interrogate the role of these essential cinema workers (such as projectionists, distribution staff, etc.) within the Soviet film industry, who are, more often than not considered a mere piece of machinery and ignored in the scholarly accounts of Sakha cinema and, more generally, of global cinema history. These workers were active and vital agents of cinema circulation and dissemination, and they must be taken into account in order to write a decentred and pluricultural history of Soviet screen culture. Because these local histories are rooted locally in a supposedly peripheral region of the Russian/Soviet empire, by analysing this under-researched aspect of Sakha film history, we can therefore shed light on the only places where the activities of the colonised – and more broadly of the subalterns and minorities – can be found in the history of Soviet and world cinema. In the absence of ‘national’ film production during the major part of the first century of cinema history, subaltern peoples only had access to so-called ‘low’ positions in the hierarchy of film professions.

A female Sakha projectionist (Kinomekhanik-iakutka, L. Faiko, 1951-1954). Library of Congress.




How to Cite

Damiens, Caroline. 2024. “Provincialising Moscow: Reviewing Cinema History from Sakha (Yakutia)”. Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures of Central and Eastern Europe, no. 18 (March).

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