“Dreamers and Bandits in Russian Cinema”: Professor Yuri Leving’s New Course Kayra Guven ‘24

Dec. 1, 2022

As you are planning your spring schedule, one course to look out for is “Dreamers and Bandits in Russian Cinema” (SLA 326/RES 326), Prof. Yuri Leving’s new class on Russian and post-Soviet film from the 1960s to the 2000s. The course promises something for people with various academic and personal interests thanks to the way studying film brings together different disciplines, and Prof. Leving’s setup of the course—looking at film both historically and through a range of genres and technical styles—further supports an interdisciplinary approach.

In my interview with Prof. Leving, he emphasized how “the classroom is a perfect space to test innovative methodology.” This idea is perhaps best reflected in one of the distinguishing assignments of SLA 326: shooting a short film. Regarding the project, Prof. Leving said, “This is my favorite element in the entire course. I love watching and analyzing films produced by students during the semester. I call it ‘The 52 Seconds’ project because the Lumière Brothers’ first ‘motion pictures’ ran exactly 52 seconds (due to technical limitations).” The hands-on nature of the assignment complements the analysis of films from the course; Prof. Leving adds, “In my experience after students try their hand in actually shooting and editing a film (even if it runs less than a minute), they can better learn to appreciate composition, mise-en-scène, camera angles and lighting in the feature films watched in class.” It is important to note that the assignment does not assume previous experience: “When it comes to creating your own version, what I care most about is the concept behind the short film and less the practical skills of a student.”

More broadly speaking, the course does not have any prerequisites—including any language requirements, since the screenings will have English subtitles. On the subject, Prof. Leving expressed his confidence in the general “visual literacy” of students and added, “There are, of course, cultural specificities that characterize this or that national film school and history, but these are the details that we learn to grasp as we progress through the course together.”

The accessibility of SLA 326 connects to Prof. Leving’s intentions when creating the course in the first place: “I was motivated to teach an introductory course on the art of cinema that looked beyond movies produced in Hollywood.” He added, “My hope is that by the end of the course students will learn to appreciate global film styles.” In this way, the course can simultaneously be a survey for students with no prior background in film studies, while also being a means of further exploration for those who are more familiar with film from other regions since “the Soviet cinematic school was extremely influential both in Europe and in the US. For instance, the great avant-garde director Sergei Eisenstein was on friendly terms both with Walt Disney and Charlie Chaplin.” Situating film from one region within a broader context of global cinema is woven into the core of the course: “Russian and post-Soviet directors advanced the artistic legacy of their predecessors, and I am particularly interested in exploring their dialogue with Western art.”

With this global framework in mind, Prof. Leving’s course also aims to highlight the various cinemas present within the umbrella of the larger region: “‘Dreamers and Bandits in Russian Cinema’ is understood broadly in terms of inclusivity and will feature several films from the former Soviet Union to reflect the rich canvas of both Slavic and non-Slavic traditions of the region. My personal favorites in this course are ‘Once Upon a Time There Was a Singing Blackbird’ (Georgia), ‘Tangerines’ (Estonia), and ‘Leviathan’ (Russia). There will be films from Ukraine as well.”

“Dreamers and Bandits in Russian Cinema,” in the way it can bring together people on campus interested in film; Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies; history; literature; media studies; and many other subjects, has the potential to be your new favourite course. In other words, “This is an opportunity to unleash your creativity and intellectual curiosity!”