Antisemitism and Zionism in Soviet Cinema: Screenings with Panel Discussions

To mark the recent centenaries of the Russian Revolution and the Balfour Declaration, the Pears Institute explores questions of antisemitism and Zionism in Soviet cinema.

Rarely screened in the UK, these two films address the neglected story of the ‘Soviet Zion’ in Birobidzhan, and the contentious question of the persistence of antisemitism after the October Revolution.

Iskateli schast’ia – Seekers of Happiness

Film screening with panel discussion

Speakers: Dr Claire Le Foll, University of Southampton; Professor Philip Spencer, Visiting Professor, Birkbeck, University of London, Emeritus Professor, Kingston University; and Professor Robert Weinberg, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania

Date: Sunday 25 February 2018

Venue: Birkbeck, University of London, Room B35, Torrington Square main entrance, WC1E 7HX

Time:                            2.00 – 3.30  Film screening

3.30 – 3.45 Break

3.45 – 4.45 Panel discussion

Free event open to all: Eventbrite link https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/iskateli-chastiia-seekers-of-happiness-tickets-42669998113

Rarely screened in the UK, Iskateli schast’ia (Vladimir Korsh-Sablin, 1934) offers insight into how themes of assimilation, antisemitism, Zionism and communism were expressed in Soviet cinema under Stalin.

During the late 1920s, many impoverished Jews searching for a better life made their way to Birobidzhan, the new Soviet Jewish Autonomous Region on the Chinese border. This film tells the story of one Jewish family’s migration to the new ‘Soviet Zion’ and their experiences as settlers on a collective farm as they build their new life.

In the panel discussion speakers will consider questions the film raises about the history of Jews under communism and the relationship between Zionism and the Soviet project. How did a ‘Soviet Zion’ emerge under Stalin; and how did Jews respond to the invitation to migrate to the Siberian Far East? What was life like in the new (Soviet) Jewish state? How were Jews and Jewishness depicted in Soviet cinema? And how does the film and its subject matter sit within the wider history of the relationship between Marxism and Jewish politics? Chair: Dr Brendan McGeever, Acting Associate Director of the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism.

About the panel speakers: Claire Le Foll is a historian of East European Jewry, and has a particular interest in Soviet Jewish cinema; Philip Spencer is Professor Emeritus in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and has a specialist interest in Marxism and Jewish politics; and Professor Robert Weinberg is a specialist on the history of Birobidzhan and Soviet Jewish history more generally.

 

The Commissar

Film screening with panel discussion

Speakers include: Professor Marat Grinberg, Reed College, Oregon; Professor Jeremy Hicks, Queen Mary, University of London

Date: Sunday 15 April 2018

Venue: Birkbeck, University of London, Room B35, Torrington Square main entrance, WC1E 7HX.

Time:                            2.00 – 3.55  Film screening

3.55 – 4.15 Break

4.15 – 5.15 Panel discussion

Free event open to all: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-commissar-tickets-42670241842

The Commissar (Aleksandr Askoldov, 1967) is regarded as one of the most important films of the Soviet era, yet it was banned for over 20 years.

Based on a short story by Russian Jewish writer Vasilii Grossman, the film chronicles the dramatic journey of a pregnant Red Army commissar during the Russian Revolution. As the birth of her child reaches ever nearer, the committed commissar is forced to stay with a Jewish family near the frontline of the battle between the Red and White Armies. Originally scheduled for release in 1967, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Askoldov’s first and only film was shelved by the censors due to its frank portrayal of antisemitism and pogromist violence in the wake of the Revolution. Askoldov was in turn expelled from the Communist Party and banned from making films for life.

In the panel discussion following the screening, speakers will explore issues the film raises about both antisemitism and gender in the Russian Revolution. How is antisemitism represented and why did this prove so controversial to the Soviet authorities? In what ways did the film’s intended release during the Six Day War of 1967 shape its reception? How is gender and Soviet womanhood depicted in the film? And how does The Commissar compare with other representations of the Holocaust and gender in Soviet cinema? Chair: Dr Brendan McGeever, Acting Associate Director of the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism.

About the panel speakers: Marat Grinberg is a scholar of Russian and Soviet literature and cinema and author of Aleksandr Askoldov The Commissar (Intellect, 2016), a book-length study of the film; and Jeremy Hicks is a specialist on the Holocaust in Soviet Cinema.