Documentaries, TV and animated films will soon be exchanged. Hollywood and Boston reap some cultural benefits from glasnost
Last March, 10 of the Soviet Union's most influential film directors, actors, and writers came here to meet their American counterparts, in the first such gathering to examine each country's stereotypes of the other as presented in film, television, and video. Now, Part 2 of this cross-cultural test of glasnost (openness) is complete. A delegation of 10 American producers, actors, and writers has just returned from a similar gathering in Moscow.
``Despite the fact that the Soviets are in a time of great transition if not revolution in their film industry, we had a wonderfully warm and fruitful reception,'' said Mark Gerzon, president of the American-Soviet Film Initiative (ASFI).
Mr. Gerzon announced a bilateral agreement enabling top Kremlin leaders and members of Congress to view a diverse selection of each country's films, and further agreements regarding exchanges of documentaries, animation, and television.
``This is a very important step, because although we've had months of exchange between filmmakers, political leaders have not been a part of this exchange,'' he said.
The original agreement to exchange delegations was negotiated early last year between Gerzon and Elem Klimov, who recently took over as head of the Film Workers' Union of the USSR.
Gerzon's original ``summit'' was designed to inspire both Soviet and American filmmakers to move beyond clich'ed and one-dimensional stereotypes of ``the enemy.'' The first meetings, last March, were characterized by both sides as an unprecedented meeting of minds where only a well-intentioned public-relations exercise might have occurred.
With the return of the American delegation, terms of the original agreement have been completed. Immediate results include a traveling exhibit entitled ``US/USSR'' - a collection of films from both countries to tour 20 US cities - and the first co-produced Soviet-American documentary, ``Superpower Mirror.'' The latter is a collection of Soviet and American film clips, showing how each has portrayed the other, and it will be available on home video and cable by August.
Accompanying Gerzon to Moscow were David Puttnam, former head of Columbia Pictures and now an independent producer; actors Dennis Weaver and Keith Carradine; producer Carolyn Pfeiffer of Alive Films (``The Whales of August''); director Gilbert Cates, former president of the Directors Guild of America; Jeff Berg, head of International Creative Management, an influential talent agency; Bruce Ramer, an entertainment lawyer; and two journalists.
Gerzon brought his returning delegation to a small meeting of reporters here to tell about the visit.
``[The USSR] will always be a socialist system,'' said Larry Schiller, producer of the recent television miniseries ``Peter the Great.'' Mr. Schiller noted dramatic increases in frankness by his Soviet counterparts in his visits there over the past two years. ``But as to the question whether [the Soviet Union] will be led by dogma or the masses, [the country is] moving ahead toward the latter faster than we can perceive.''
The American delegation was received at the modern headquarters building of Dom Kino (House of Film). Meetings were held at the Filmmakers Union with leading directors, actors, and entertainment executives.
The delegation also spent time in the Georgian city of Tbilisi for first-time screenings in the Soviet Union of such American films as ``E.T.'' and ``Witness.''
Both sides also discussed a series of recent Soviet films such as ``Repentance,'' a controversial anti-Stalinist production, and ``Coming Home,'' a documentary about the bitterness of Soviet soldiers returning from Afghanistan.
``I was very surprised by the extent of the strides glasnost has taken in just two years,'' said actor Dennis Weaver. Lauding the ASFI effort to pave the way for moviegoers in both countries to experience more of each other's films, he made two observations: ``I was impressed the Soviet audiences understood the subleties and nuances of our films, often more quickly and deeply than American audiences,'' he said. There were no subtitles for any of the films shown, but rather a translator stood in the projection booth translating each phrase. ``And the quantity of critical films I saw - Stalinist purges, anti-Afghan policy, tearing down of churches - could never have been done two years ago.''
The American delegation was kept busy with 10 days of business sessions and social events and film-watching hosted by its new Soviet counterpart, Amerikano-Sovietskaya Kinoinitiative, headed by Igor Kokaref, a Soviet critic and film historian.
``Before, everyone was always scared to tell you what they were really thinking,'' remarked Schiller, noting a great difference in attitude, even since 1985, when he visited to produce the ``Peter the Great'' miniseries. ``Now the creative people talk about what they know the bureaucracy would like them to say, but what they dream about producing as well.''
When asked about some of the hurdles in the Soviet filmmaking system, Schiller noted, ``You can't just go out and buy a bunch of film and cameras and go make your film - all the machinery of filmmaking is controlled by the central filmmaking bodies.''
Although noting the great strides of glasnost under Mikhail Gorbachev, Gerzon noted a web of complexity in Soviet processes that will take years to penetrate.
``Americans must be careful in judging to what extent glasnost equals `openness' in our sense,'' Gerzon said.
He noted a conversation with Elem Klimov in which Gerzon lauded ``Coming Home'' as a model of independent filmmaking.
``Klimov told me, `Yes, this is a great film for preparing the Soviet public.' So it was clear that at the same time this was an example of culture leading politics, it was in a sense politics asking culture to lead in a certain direction - a cultural sign that they intended to withdraw from Afghanistan.''