History of RAFF
The First Russian Anthropological Film Festival (RAFF) was held in 1998 in Salekhard, capital of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region. Eugenie Alexandrov (head of the Visual Anthropology Center of the Moscow University), Oleg Genisaretsky (first president of RAFF), Andrei Golovnev (today’s president of RAFF), Yuri Kukevich (organizer of TV and Radio Company “Yamal”), and Marina Yuzhaninova (director of RAFF) invested their efforts to its organization. The Yamal administration led by governor of the region Yuri Neelov has taken up the basic financial burden of carrying out of RAFF. Since then five biennial festivals took place: 1st (1998), 2nd (2000), 3rd (2002), 4th (2004), 5th (2006).
There were no concept of “anthropological film” and respective film festival in Russia before. Anthropologists usually avoided serious film-work and at best acted as advisers in popular-science films. Ideologists of the festival and the first festival jury led by the film critic Andrei Shemyakin had to search for orientations in the mist of early Russian cinemanthropology that combined professionalism in science with amateurism in cinema and vise versa. First two festivals had a ring style where methodologists, film directors, politicians, ethnographers demonstrated their best in fights without rules. However, encounters of two ambitious cohorts - researchers and cinematographers – adorned the first festivals full of disputes on “what is an anthropological film?”
Golden tundra autumn invites free reflection, play of self-evaluation and re-evaluation. That was a North where documentary was born starting from Flaherty. Our anthropological film festival also feels free in the North, more due to the fact that Yamal combines sound traditions of the Arctic nomads with sweeping rhythms of multicultural Gazprom.
The main dispute about priority – art or science – has initially been fated for choice of parity. For the first sight it seemed so that matter could rest with transitory using of each other – the anthropologist will fix a ceremony on a film, the film director will load a movie with exotic - and everyone will return to native guild with his own imagination about “visual anthropology.” The science will satisfy with documentary authenticity and nothing to do with quality of shootings, and the art will satisfy with expressive imagery and nothing to do with depth of cultural insight. However RAFF has taken root into subconscious already: the ethnographer started to search the aesthetics of scene, and the film-director – nuances of inner-cultural semantics.
Even though the festival besot by speeches and atmosphere, the main actors here are films, and RAFF programs with impressive works by Anatoly Baluev, Andrei Golovnev, Valery Solomin, Markku Lehmuskallio and Anastasia Lapsui paved the real paths of anthropological cinema and endowed the festival with peaceful formula art+science.
3rd RAFF launched new spiral of search, properly for the audience. Who watches anthropological films? Are TV channels interested in it? Where, beyond professional festivals and university rooms, can we have our spectators? Why Salekhard cinema hall is not crowded by public?
Perhaps, the future anthropological cinema will answer these questions, but some accents are already perceptible. Force and charm of anthropological film is in sincere and bold self-expression. You may be wisely sensitive to a film-fashion, you may keep up on the latest scientific discoveries and meet demand and choice of the day, – but the film won’t come off from all these arrangements; you should get them out of your mind while making film. The anthropological cinema deals with a matter in which a film was born, and every successful work of this kind is a film-reflection. In the best films of two recent festivals, “Tiny Katerina” by Ivan Golovnev and “Yaptik-Haesse” by Edgar Bartenev, the cinema opens particular aesthetics of two northern cultures and at the same time something special in itself. In the meantime, due to various reasons the anthropology increases its vogue, cinema halls on 5th RAFF are getting filled by viewers, and more often anthropological films happen to glimpse on TV channels.
5th RAFF has indicated a new level of search and experiment – out of genre, out of settled frames. Throughout ten years the RAFF kept as inviolable norm the actuality of anthropological film, but the “actuality” itself can drift fancifully. What happens with shooting and montage if camera wishes to record the streams of subconscious, rather than types of footwear? If vivid ritualized mythology is always the performance, then why “mockumentarist” Alexei Fedorchenko, whose new feature “Shosho” opened the 5th RFAF though has not been included in the competition, was considered to cop out of documentarism?
Karen Gevorkyan, Jury Chairman of two, 3rd and 5th, festivals, believes that borderland between feature and documentary, especially in sense of anthropology, is artificial. Perhaps, some future RAFF will test the feature nomination; so far eagerness for diversity has triggered the parallel project of Northern Travelling Film Festival (NTFF) that combines all film genres.
In selecting nominations and parallel projects RAFF did not spare efforts for tests. On the first festivals there were awards for both films (grand prix and special prizes of Jury) and visual-anthropological project presentations. In those years a tolerance to “raw footage” was pertinent, and some of half-staff has grown later into films. The 3rd RAFF has entered a nomination “the Arctic TV programs” and launched a project of Northern Traveling Film Festival, which started with Karen Gevorkyan’s “Piebald Dog Running by the Edge of the Sea”. The nomination of TV programs (with special Jury) has played its role in propagation of anthropological films on the regional TV channels and left the scene, whereas NTFF has turn into strong international project: on the 5th RAFF its programme included films from Germany, Canada, Russia, Finland and Sweden (for example, feature “Atanarjuat” by Zacharias Kunuk, documentary “Hitler's Hit-Parade” by Oliver Axer and Suzann Benz, animation film “Southward of North” by Andrei Sokolov); on the 5th RAFF, with support of the Arctic Council, the Travelling Festival has presented “Arctic Panorama” - film-faces of northern countries (including documentary “Arctic Dreamer “ by Canadian Peter Raymont, short “Last Farm” by Icelander Runar Runarsson, full-length “Elina” by Finn Klaus Haro and “As in the Heaven” by Swede Cay Pollak). Since 2002 RAFF and NTFF have a format of united festival, supplementing each other by programs, organizers and participants, funds, maintenance and by personnel.
Since the time of its formation RAFF is the only Russian full format competitive film festival representing rapidly developing genre of anthropological film. The most northern in the world festival has already become very popular and the internationally authoritative among Russian and foreign cinematographers, managers of culture, Arctic researchers. It is reputed as content art-intellectual film festival and effective social and cultural phenomenon, and it has received set of positive responses in Russia and abroad, its film-winners were shown on all-Russian and regional TV channels. Today RAFF serves, besides other purposes, as an experimental platform to search for new film-forms, to co-act in current search for identity and culture-building rather than just to reflect nostalgia for leaving cultural values.