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23rd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

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Translucent Being: Feliks Sobolev

Feliks Sobolev: Film as Discovery

Feliks Sobolev (1931-1984), who originally graduated as actor, first found himself at KyivNaukFilm (Kyiv Science Film) studio of documentary films by accident, yet in an ideal moment, in 1960. Khrushchev’s condemnation of Stalinism during the famous 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956 and plans for a historically first manned space voyage had become indications of ideological unhinging and brought promises of new era in human evolution. Trust in limitless potential of science was a key feature of the “1960s generation” of intellectuals to whom Sobolev undoubtedly belonged, with the genre of popular scientific film being an ideal means of expression. The goal of each of Sobolev’s films was therefore making a discovery and, in this sense, he was soon to become unbeatable in his field in the whole of the USSR.

The core of Sobolev’s documentary revolution lay in presenting popular scientific film genre as an emotionally full spectacle, turning the audience into participants of a real-time experiment with unanticipated conclusions. His original documentaries developed into an artistically autonomous sphere with their extraordinary information values visualized in original form. Moreover, for each topic treated in his films, the director was searching for his own esthetic solutions, making the outcome truly original through the combination of documentary footage, animation, acting, hidden camera recordings, macro close-ups of scientific experiments and technical inventions of his own.

The maximum measure of intensive message was attained through a limited number of means. In his The Feat, he is telling an amazing story of war thanks to a single photograph and only a few handwritten letters. In his film essay Biosphere! Time for Conciousness, he complemented his reflections on the rise of life on Earth with associative and causal sequences of real-life and abstract images. This combination is intensified by polyphonic soundtrack including background noises, Bach’s music and repetitive pathetic monologue. Such search for transcendent expression became a manifestation of Sobolev’s composition courage par excellance.

Other from a series his revolutionary films include The Language of Animals and Can Animals Think?, both of which became blockbusters in the USSR. A curious (and difficult-to-make) insight into the animal kingdom brought about both topical and formal renaissance of Soviet documentary filmmaking. The search for links between the animal and human world came with disturbing questions of human responsibility for future development of the planet Earth that went on to become characteristic treats of Sobolev’s work.

Interest in the constitution of the human mind brought Sobolev to start making noteworthy psychological documentaries with the participation of both Soviet academic personalities and the country’s ordinary citizens. In his Seven Steps Beyond the Horizon, Sobolev attempts–despite the seeming existence of equality system in the USSR–to open up the topic of creating a superhuman entity, though not as a shock Stalinist-era worker, but as a carrier of the superbrain. The limitless boundaries of intellectual powers were explored suggestively by Sobolev through facilitation to overcome psychological barriers (Keep at It, You Are Talented!). The psychology of human behaviour brought the director to other topics viewed as controversial at the time. His film I and Others (1971), treating the principles of manipulation and social conformism, was perceived by thoughtful audiences as an antiregime provocation act. A perspective on the ways how easily people succumb to the opinions of others and, with no obligations, start labelling sweet as salty, black as white and a woman as a man, became an unprecedented “bomb” in Brezhnev’s Soviet normalization era.

However, Sobolev’s skits with politically explosive topics finally led to his fatal destiny. Expecting the reception of a state honorary award, the director started his project Kyiv Symphony (1982), which eventually turned into a politically biased pamphlet after interventions by censorship, which brought him abhorrence of many of his collaborators. Aged only fifty, amid wasted fame and shattered state of health, Sobolev set out making his last film The Target Is Your Brain on the mechanisms of the U.S. propaganda, aiming to express views of both ideological camps with the same measure of stringency as in his model work, Mikhail Romm’s Ordinary Fascism (1965).

Kamila Dolotina

Films of the program were provided by Oleksandr Dovzhenko and National Cinematheque of Ukraine.

film database

Biosphere! Time for Consciousness
A radical reflection - both in form and content - on man’s mission on earth and the responsibility of humanity for its further development. Sobolev’s film essay disengages from the objective world and using inventive visual techniques, seeks its own transcendental shape. Within Soviet cinema, or rather its documentary direction, the film is a unique appeal to think about the future not from the perspective of individual states and ideologically allied territories, but at the level of development of the entire planet.
personal program

Biosphere! Time for Consciousness

Feliks Sobolev
Ukraine / 1974 / 16 min.
section: Translucent Being: Feliks Sobolev
Can Animals Think?
The search for the roots of human intelligence prompted the director to initiate a series of remarkable psychological experiments. In animals’ responses to changing circumstances he noted the pivotal evolutionary steps of our civilization. One of Sobolev’s most famous documentary films, it required months of preparation and castings for the most suitable candidates, from primitive one-celled organisms to primates. This philosophical commentary is accompanied by transcendent images and shots from zoos and laboratories, crowned by an urgent ecological appeal.
personal program

Can Animals Think?

Feliks Sobolev
Ukraine / 1970 / 61 min.
section: Translucent Being: Feliks Sobolev
International Premiere
Keep at It, You’re Talented!
The successful acquisition of foreign languages is generally blocked by psychological barriers. A group of Soviet philologists developed a revolutionary methodology for accelerated learning that relies on a positive attitude, suggestion, and teaching in the form of games. During 24 sessions we follow the gradual progress of two groups of students, which could be described as the first Soviet psychological reality show. Learning as continuous entertainment that breaks down complexes is an inspirational contribution not only to the topic of education, but also a reflection of the functioning of the human psyche.
personal program

Keep at It, You’re Talented!

Feliks Sobolev
Ukraine / 1979 / 54 min.
section: Translucent Being: Feliks Sobolev
International Premiere
Seven Steps Beyond the Horizon
Has the capacity of the human brain already been exhausted due to information overload? Sobolev posed this question at the end of the 1960s after a hidden camera recorded the results of a university entrance exam. The director, renowned for his belief in the endless possibilities of humanity, created a participatory documentary in which he filmed experiments with people with phenomenal abilities under the guidance of professors from the Academy of Sciences. Scientific analysis of the nature of hypnosis, telepathy, and dermo-optical perception reveals potential avenues to expanding the frontiers of human knowledge.
personal program

Seven Steps Beyond the Horizon

Feliks Sobolev
Ukraine / 1968 / 72 min.
section: Translucent Being: Feliks Sobolev
International Premiere
The Feat
One photograph and unsettling letters, underscored by a band of abstract images, create Sobolev’s most striking film. A portrait of an unknown soldier, published in the memoirs of Marshall Zhukov, provoked a massive response in readers. In the dour face covered in dust, many recognized their sons, fathers, brothers. Sobolev brings the face described in the letters to life and each allows us to experience the transformation of his perception. By zooming in or multiplying a single photo, he manages to speak about the fate of an entire nation.
personal program

The Feat

Feliks Sobolev
Ukraine / 1975 / 8 min.
section: Translucent Being: Feliks Sobolev
International Premiere
The Language of Animals
In the heyday of space travel, the problem of understanding the languages of other creatures became a more universal topic. The director sought the answer to the question as to whether or not we are capable of deciphering the language system of another civilization by researching the communications of the oldest inhabitants of our planet. We observe the ritualized expressions of the basic instincts of ants, bees, fish and birds up close in both natural conditions and staged laboratory experiments. Sobolev’s unique (for the time) footage of the animal kingdom earned him fame at home and abroad.
personal program

The Language of Animals

Feliks Sobolev
Ukraine / 1967 / 66 min.
section: Translucent Being: Feliks Sobolev
International Premiere
The Target Is Your Brain
Oleg Feofanov’s book on ideological manipulation in the USA inspired Felix Sobolev’s final film – he died during its problematic preparations. A penetrating insight into the advertising mechanisms of political campaigns and the ways of influencing social opinion is created with a striking assemblage of advertising, political speeches, and recordings of social unrest. Acting in counterpoint to the image is the narrator’s corrective commentary, which, in its intentionally anti-bourgeois rhetoric, demonstrates the fact that we are already living in an Orwellian world.
personal program

The Target Is Your Brain

Feliks Sobolev
Ukraine / 1984 / 57 min.
section: Translucent Being: Feliks Sobolev
International Premiere
Ministerstvo kultury
Fond kinematografie
Evropská unie
Město Jihlava
Kraj Vysočina
Česká televize
Český rozhlas
Aktuálně.cz
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