Entertainment behind the scenes
He’s a physiotherapist by day and a filmmaker by nights, weekends and everything in between. Semyon Pinkhasov has captured facets of Soviet life that rarely get shared beyond Russia’s borders, even after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
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The self-taught, self-financed, award-winning amateur documentary filmmaker has seen his films shown worldwide at festivals and on Russian and English-language television channels. Focused on the arts and the sport of fencing (U.S. Olympic Team Coach in 1984), he tells stories about Grigory Fried, who has run a music appreciation club in Moscow for 45 years without taking a kopeck; Tikhon Khrennikov, the first and last secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers; and Boris Efimov, perhaps Stalin’s favorite cartoonist.
One film about German fencing legend Helene Meyer, whose half-Jewish heritage provided Adolf Hitler with political cover to stage the 1936 Olympics, won for best screenplay at the 2009 International Festival of Sports Films in Moscow. But what drives someone with no background in film, journalism or the arts to dive into movie making? Roll the video:
Photo: Documentary Filmmaker Semyon Pinkhasov is shown in his Manhattan apartment on June 21, 2010. REUTERS/Daniel Bases
Awarded to "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout (Random House), a collection of 13 short stories set in small-town Maine that packs a cumulative emotional wallop, bound together by polished prose and by Olive, the title character, blunt, flawed and fascinating. Drama:
Awarded to "Ruined," by Lynn Nottage, a searing drama set in chaotic Congo that compels audiences to face the horror of wartime rape and brutality while still finding affirmation of life and hope amid hopelessness. History:
Awarded to "The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family," by Annette Gordon-Reed (W.W. Norton & Company), a painstaking exploration of a sprawling multi-generation slave family that casts provocative new light on the relationship between Sally Hemings and her master, Thomas Jefferson. Biography:
Awarded to "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House," by Jon Meacham (Random House), an unflinching portrait of a not always admirable democrat, but a pivotal president, written with an agile prose that brings the Jackson saga to life. Poetry:
Awarded to "The Shadow of Sirius," by W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press), a collection of luminous, often tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory. General Nonfiction:
Awarded to "Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II," by Douglas A. Blackmon (Doubleday), a precise and eloquent work that examines a deliberate system of racial suppression and that rescues a multitude of atrocities from virtual obscurity. Prize in Music:
Awarded to "Double Sextet" by Steve Reich (Boosey & Hawkes), premiered on March 26, 2008 in Richmond, VA, a major work that displays an ability to channel an initial burst of energy into a large-scale musical event, built with masterful control and consistently intriguing to the ear.
The world of entertainment, especially film, tends to benefit when times are tough, as people seek to escape worries about their job, mortgage, children’s education or heating bills. But 2009 is likely to be a tough one for movies, music, theatre, art, books and most other forms of diversion you can think of.
Hollywood has already seen studios downsized and movie projects ditched thanks to budgetary concerns, a trend which some experts expect to continue into the new year. Raising finances to fund new pictures has become more complicated, and despite major releases like Harry Potter, Watchmen, Wolverine, Transformers, Angels & Demons and Star Trek to name but a few, there is no guarantee that box office attendances will reverse this year’s decline.
Russian conductor Valery Gergiev has long been a darling of the West, and is currently serving as principal conductor at the London Symphony Orchestra. It will be fascinating to see whether, following his highly politicized decision to lead a performance of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich amid the damaged buildings of South Ossetia’s Tskhinvali this week, that popularity wavers.
The charismatic musician’s actions will appeal to many Russians, who blame Georgia for sparking the crisis in the Caucasus by seeking to re-take the breakaway enclave and for shelling the regional capital. By likening the attack to the 9/11 strikes on the United States, Gergiev only upped the stakes.