Life under Communism
The half-century since the installation of the Ceausescu dictatorship and the twenty five years since the Revolution offer a temporal standpoint fit to contemplate from a comfortable distance what has been called in recent Romanian history, “The Golden Age”. How was life during the communist regime in reality? The answers may vary somewhere along the lines of vilification, idealisation and indifference.
This Astra Film programme tries to uncover the extent to which the visual documents preserved as documentaries, footage and photos can help us reconstruct how people lived at that time and the register needed to view and interpret these materials so that they may convey an image that is closest to the reality of those years. Under the format of an Open session, "Life under communism" presents two Romanian documentary filmmakers who were active during the Ceausescu regime: Slavomir Popovici and Ioan Agapi.
What were the implications of being a documentary director employed by the system? What was the annual production, how were the themes chosen, to what extent was the content negotiable and how did censorship operate? What was the purpose of making films? How and where were they distributed? Although they worked in a time when communist propaganda controlled everything related to film production, Slavomir Popovici and Ioan Agapi went on atypical routes – that is why their creative activity speaks volumes about those years, provided their films are correctly interpreted.
There will be a debate about the end of communism after the screening event of “1989”, a documentary that goes beyond the closed doors where political games were secretly carried out, which would lead to the collapse of communism. The film is an interweaving of reconstructions, archival footage and testimonials, and it combines great historical events with the personal tragedies of those who were at that time caught in the crossfire while trying to escape the Eastern Bloc.
The screening will be followed by a discussion with film director Erzsebet Racz and Judith Urban, Consul of Germany in Sibiu, eye-witness of the events as junior assistant of the Embassy of West Germany in Budapest.
Visual Memory of Communist Romania in Personal Film Archives: Ioan Matei Agapi
Ioan Agapi is a singular character among Romanian documentary filmmakers of the communist era. In a time when most artists and filmmakers were compelled to work under the direct supervision of official institutions, Agapi somehow managed to gain the status of an independent visual artist and stick to it. This gave him the privilege to capture on film political and social events from a more personal and intimate perspective than any other director. The communist propaganda agents thought they were using him, but the fact of the matter was that he was using them, i.e. he was taking advantage of their filmmaking facilities to develop his own personality as a documentary filmmaker.
Agapi was born in 1936 in Huși. He studied documentary filmmaking in Bucharest in the 1960s. After graduation, he got a job as a teacher at the Traditional School of Arts in Iași and at the Municipal Arts Centre in Huși, where his tasks included making propaganda films. Between 1968 and 1993 he filmed 16 mm documentaries and feature reportages. His work includes propaganda films made at congresses of the Romanian Communist Party or featuring high-ranking communist party officials at various events, but also documentaries about cultural events, traditional customs, demolition of houses and even mundane street moments.
After the collapse o communism, Agapi tried to trace his earlier works at the institutions that had commissioned them, only to find out that most of them were lost or simply thrown away because they were no longer of use. Luckily, besides being a filmmaker and a photographer, he is also a passionate collector. His personal archive includes 21,000 meters of film footage, the equivalent of 32 hours of video footage (recently digitalized) and a few finalized short films, a selection of which is presented by Nora și Ioan Agapi.
Slavomir Popovici (1930-1983) is one of the most valuable Romanian documentary filmmakers (of Serbian origins). While working at the Documentary Film Studio ”Alexandru Sahia”, he innovated in each of his films, whether they were commissioned or made on personal initiative. This put him in a constant struggle with censorship, not only regarding films inspired by contemporary reality, but also after having decided to exclusively make old art and ethnographical films.
The screening of a selection of the director’s films (A Chronicle, Dark Sun, Factory) will be accompanied by an analysis of the way documentaries were made at the Sahia Studio during the communist regime (1960-1989). By talking to several elderly employees of the studio, directors, writers, operators, going beyond the way the system worked in terms of propaganda, production, censorship and distribution, we discovered that there was, however, a friendly atmosphere. Good films, or rather decent films could be “sneaked in”, as long as they complied with the mostly absurd conditions imposed: not showing poverty, filth, churches, death, capitalism…
After all, what was the status of a documentary filmmaker at that time? He was just another civil servant, but in a privileged position that allowed for some degree of freedom, bohemian behaviour and an above-average income. This privilege existed as long as the filmmaker understood the mechanisms of self-censorship, the limits and sacrifices of creation in a totalitarian regime, however mild.
Thursday 07.10.2015, 15:00 Astra Film Cinema