Russian Boston

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Russian Boston

Russian Boston

Director Maria Gerstein’s new film traces the fate of the new wave of immigrants

The title of the new film by documentary filmmaker Maria Gershtein “Second Life. Boston ”in today’s context is perceived as symbolic. After all, the city and its inhabitants, who survived the horrors of the recent terrorist attack, demonstrate courage and optimism to the world. Boston’s rich cultural life is returning to its usual rhythm. One of the significant events of these days is the premiere of the film “Second Life. Boston “at Boston University.

On the eve of the premiere, Voice of America correspondent Oleg Sulkin met with director Maria Gershtein in the Boston suburb of Newton. The conversation was attended by her husband, writer Mikhail Gershtein, co-author of the film script.

Oleg Sulkin: An inevitable question, not directly related to the film. Is it competent to associate the two young people who organized the terrorist attack in Boston with the Russian emigration??

Maria Gerstein: I think no. It doesn’t matter where they come from. It is important that they were indoctrinated by the jihadists. Russian Bostonians dearly love their city, its history.

One of the heroes of our film, Leonid Spivak, writes interesting books and articles about the history of Boston, about outstanding Russian people and Americans who lived and live here. To some extent, our film clearly shows who Russian Bostonians are..

Mikhail Gershtein: When the American press calls the Chechens “Russians”, it is wrong. This has nothing to do with our emigration, where there are a lot of Jews. Our people actively oppose Islamic fundamentalism, are pro-Israel.

O.S.: In the film, you show Russian Boston as a comfortable environment for the preservation and development of Russian spirituality. How did you choose the characters for the film? By what principle?

Mar. G .: According to the principle of personal preferences. For example, I was not personally acquainted with Sasha Livshin before, but I attended his concert. He made the program “Poetry of the Fallen Poets”, read Samoilov, Kulchitsky and others. Then we saw him on stage in the Russian theater. Everyone else, perhaps, I knew personally. Of course, there are not even a dozen or a hundred interesting people from the former USSR in Boston, but much more..

But it seemed to us that the five heroes we chose, as they say, were typical representatives of the Boston emigration. I was inspired to this film by the songs of Irina Zhivova, which I first heard in the early 90s. Misha and I and our two children moved to Boston in 1990 and we know from the inside exactly this new wave of emigration. We understand, we feel these people. But I took up this topic with trepidation and apprehension..

O.S.: Why?

Mar. G .: Very much everything is dear and familiar. It’s hard to step back and look from the inside out.

O.S.: Almost all of your heroes have an American profession and a Russian hobby at the same time. Programmer and actor, physician and singer, biologist and historian, and so on. Such dualism is a normal state, or in this duality there is an inner drama?

Mar. G .: We are used to this duality, and I don’t think it’s that dramatic. Duality even helps in some way. Our heroes do the work they love. For example, Galya Bogdanovskaya in America has learned a new profession from scratch, she works as a physiotherapist. She is a bard, sings urban romances and Jewish songs with a guitar. And she confessed to us that she was happy.

O.S.: Where did your heroes come from??

Mar. G .: Mostly from Leningrad and Moscow. Perhaps only the clown Veniamin Elfant is a native of Ukraine, although he studied in Moscow. It so happened by chance, I did not choose people by geography..

Russian Boston

O.S.: Where did you come from? What did you do in that life and what do you do in this?

Mar. G .: Misha and I are from Gorky, now – again – from Nizhny Novgorod. I taught physics at the school. Even then, she was interested in cinema, attended script courses at the Gorky television. Here, in America, I first taught, then graduated from college and now I help Misha, I conduct accounting in his company..

Mikh.G .: In Gorky, I worked as an engineer, and with the beginning of perestroika, I organized my own scientific instrument-making company. I am doing this here as well. And in my free time I write poetry, prose, essays.

O.S.: What production base do you shoot films on??

Mar. G .: I actually have no budget, so I had to learn everything. I shoot myself, I edit myself.

O.S.: “Second Life. Boston “is your seventh film. What is the audience’s fate of previous tapes?

Mar. G .: The two previous films, “Reconnaissance in Force. Meeting with Ehrenburg “and” Nabokov: Happy Years “were shown on the RTVi TV channel. I got a lot of feedback. Russian and English versions are available on DVD. The film about Ehrenburg won first place in the American Small Studios Competition. The film about Nabokov was shown at several film shows, including the Russian Abroad festivals in Moscow and Russian documentary films in New York. We also showed it in Nizhny Novgorod.

O.S.: Who do your heroes consider themselves to be, Russians or Americans? Judging by their reflections in the film, there can be no definite answer…

Mar. G .: They’re all kind of stuck between cultures. They watch American films, read American books, go to American museums. That is, they are trying to penetrate into this life. Our heroes are successful people, they took place here professionally. On the other hand, they have retained a steadfast love for the Russian language, for Russian culture. It is probably legitimate to call all of us “Russian-speaking Americans”.

O.S.: The topic of “emigration and Boston” is huge, especially from a historical perspective. You found, for example, interesting footage with conductor Sergei Koussevitsky. And they showed the views of unpretentious Boston…

Mar. G .: Poetic presentation of material is our main principle. It is impossible to embrace the whole theme of Russian Boston in one film; many aspects had to be marked only with strokes. For example, we gave the prehistory of the new emigration only by individual names of prominent representatives of previous emigration waves – sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, musician Sergei Koussevitsky.

Curious: we were assured that Koussevitzky’s videos are kept only in Paris. And suddenly, in the archives of Boston University, we found a 1949 film where he conducts and how he conducts – this is a must-see! Yes, we have five heroes, but there is also a sixth – Irina Zhivova, her heartfelt, lyrical, nostalgic songs. There is also a seventh hero – Boston itself, its streets, squares, parks, bookstores, coffee shops, lovely corners of the Russian heart in Brookline, Cambridge, Newton.

O.S.: Nostalgia, as you know, is characteristic of emigration. How strong is she now? Was it affected by the disappearance of the Iron Curtain? After all, now, probably, there is no feeling of being cut off…

Mar. G .: It is true that the previous strain is no longer there. But the nostalgia remained. And not for today’s Russia, but for that former life. The Boston emigration preserved, as it were, the atmosphere of the intellectual culture of the Soviet 60s-80s.

We value it and strive to pass it on to our children. As for the new reality, the fall of the barriers turned out to be very beneficial. The desire of the new Russia to place the achievements of emigre culture in the context of global Russian culture is gratifying. For example, the heroes of our film Leonid Spivak and Pyotr Ilyinsky now publish books in Russian publishing houses..

  • Oleg Sulkin

    Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in New York.

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