Margy Kinmonth is an award winning film and television director whose many credits include Mariinsky Theatre and Nutcracker Story for ITV about Russian opera and ballet; Outback Art – The Goldrush for C4; Rubens – A Master in the Making, and Hermitage Revealed. Her series Naked Hollywood with Arnold Schwarzenegger won BAFTA best documentary series. Kinmonth’s authored investigative films include The Secret World of Haute Couture, shot on location in Paris and the RTS Best Arts award winning film about Rudolf Nureyev and Francis Bacon: The Strange World of Barry Who?
Her latest film, Revolution – New Art for a New World is a feature documentary that encapsulates a momentous period in the history of Russia and the Russian Avant-Garde. Drawing on the collections of major Russian institutions, contributions from contemporary artists and performers, with personal testimony from the descendants of those involved, my film brings the artists of the Russian Avant-Garde to life. It tells the stories of artists like Chagall, Kandinsky, Malevich and others – pioneers who flourished in response to the Utopian challenge of building a New Art for a New World, only to be broken by implacable authority after 15 short years.
Theodora Clarke: Why did you decide to make this new film on the Russian Revolution? As a British film director you have done several projects now focused on Russia, what first attracted you to their history and culture?
MK: The genesis for Revolution – New Art for a New World, came after a period of filming in Russia, and I’ve now directed four major films in Russia.
Why Russia? As a filmmaker I find rich stories in Russian history and art, which continually resonate with me. There’s a deep well of art and culture, writing, music, film and architecture through which to tell Russia’s stories. But most of all, it’s the peoples’ stories that draw me in.
My interest started with making films about the pre Revolutionary period of Imperial Russia, when the Tsars patronised and collected art in abundance, and especially loved the ballet.
My first inspiration was The Nutcracker. My film NUTCRACKER STORY reveals the darker origins of the fairytale, and how The Nutcracker eventually travelled across the world from Germany to Russia and onto USA to become one of West’s most popular ballets.
Then I was invited by Maestro Valery Gergiev, the conductor and General Director of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, to make a film celebrating its 225th anniversary. For MARIINSKY THEATRE I filmed for about a year behind the scenes of the opera house and ballet school.
That film then led to another invitation, this time from the Director of State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, the oldest museum in the world, to make a cinema film about its rich history. Again I went behind the scenes to find my stories, where the public could not go. I uncovered the working processes of this very Russian museum – a palace that evolved into a soviet entity during the Revolution. My cinema film HERMITAGE REVEALED embraced this institution which had undergone so much hardship and near annihilation in its 250 year history.
I became increasingly interested in what happened to Russia culturally during the Revolution, and started searching for stories and artefacts. 1917 was a pioneering period for the cinema itself and I found rare, unseen footage in the film archive at Krasnogorsk, of the Russian Avant Garde period. One of my starting points for my film REVOLUTION was the great epic film “October” by Eisenstein, a story which was in itself a propaganda exercise and which immortalised the political events through the lens of a great artist. It was Lenin himself who decided that Art was the means to spread the communist ideology, so, as a result, many artists played a key role at the centre of the Russian Revolution.
I knew there was a whole story to be told about the artists themselves and how their experiences were so intertwined with political events and the creation of propaganda. A very different scenario to today’s art world.
Unfolding political events today between Russia and the West are making it far harder for me as a director/producer to raise money for my films. With increasing political upheavals, this becomes even more challenging. I believe that art and culture can bring countries together and bind people through a universal language. By looking at the inspiration of the past, we can see what an incredible influence the art of the Revolution has been and remains over us today.
TC: Can you share some exciting stories that you found during your research for this film?
MK: I wanted my film to come from Russia itself. I was amazed to find out how many of the artists’ descendants are still practising artists today, keen to celebrate their grandparents’ legacy and to tell their stories of survival, and some of heartbreaking loss. It was great to film in the art schools in Moscow and St Petersburg, and many of the young artist students took part in the filming. One super talented sculpture student called Georgy Molchanovsky made a bust of Marx with his own hands out of clay, from memory, which I really enjoyed filming. We were all amazed! You’d never find that in UK art schools. Alexander Lavrentiev, the grandson of the great photographer Rodchenko, who is a teacher and clearly inherited his grandparents talents, allowed me to film his photography class at the Stroganoff Academy; his students were having so much fun.
The reason I made this film was to champion the role of the artists in this tumultuous political period of the Russian Revolution, in order to understand the context, but most of all to enjoy and be inspired by some of the most inventive and brilliant works of art the world has ever known.
I was interested in the footage showing the storage at the Russian museums of works not on view.
TC: What else did you find or learn in the process of making this film?
MK: It didn’t happen immediately. At first I found that the art of the Avant Garde seemed little to be seen publicly in Russia itself. It was largely tucked away behind the scenes in stores and archives, or else has long since been absorbed into the West. I found the crowds who flock and queue to see Russian Avant Garde art in Western museums were not much in evidence in the galleries in Russia. I discovered that the propaganda monumental sculptures commissioned by Lenin had long since disintegrated, famous Revolutionary modernist theatre techniques like Biomechanics were rarely practiced in Russia, buildings of famous constructivist style were decaying in disrepair and falling down. In fact, despite it being a period of intense, unique creativity, one to be proud of, I actually discovered when I started to interview contributors, that the Revolutionary and especially post Revolutionary period, was a chapter of Russian history which had been effectively “filed away” – a period of history which nobody wanted repeated.
TC: What new material/interviews have you included that make your film of interest or shows a new approach to this subject, as the Russian Revolution has been well covered in numerous books and previous documentaries?
MK: As a director, I always love working with actors to bring the story to life, to explore the internal monologue and emotions of the characters. REVOLUTION features the voices of some of the most exciting actors working today. They portray the key players of the Russian Revolutionary period of the Avant Garde movement – MATTHEW MACFADYEN plays Vladimir Lenin, with TOM HOLLANDER, JAMES FLEET, ELEANOR TOMLINSON and DAISY BEVAN heading up the cast as artists Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Lyubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova.
For me as director, the most cinematic aspects of the story lie in the extraordinary locations of Russia, its extreme weather, and vastness, along with the city crowds traversing the monumental architecture of the Moscow metro. It’s always great to film in Russia and the contributors were very generous in allowing my cameras into their private homes, bringing a rare and personal insight to the film.
REVOLUTION – New Art for a New World was filmed entirely on location in The Russian Federation in Moscow and St Petersburg and in The United Kingdom.
TC: When and where will the film be released?
MK: My new film REVOLUTION – New Art for a New World will be shown across UK in Curzon cinemas on Thursday NOVEMBER 10th. The premiere is at Curzon Mayfair on Nov 10th with Q and A.
REVOLUTION will be shown theatrically all over the world during 2017, the year of the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
DVDs will be available at www.foxtrotfilms.com
TC: Who is your target audience?
MK: It has been an exciting journey as director to have my recent films opening in cinemas on the big screen. There’s been a significant move in recent years for mass audiences to go to the cinema for their art and culture, stories and entertainment. This is because digital technology in theatres has improved radically, with excellent sound and Hi definition picture. Art stories are not elitist either. Artists have lives just like anyone else, full of drama and passion, which lend themselves very well to the storytelling of the cinema. The public worldwide enjoys armchair travelling. Why travel to Russia when you can enjoy the experience in your local cinema?
TC: Who is your favourite Russian artist and why?
MK: I love the amazing work of Lyubov Popova, the feminist Avant Garde cubist pioneer, who painted just before the 1917 revolution. Her work opens the film. Ilya REPIN is always great, I included “Barge Haulers on the Volga” in the film, because Repin’s vast narrative realist canvasses sum up for me the Russian journey of the pre Revolutionary nineteenth century most powerfully.
TC: Thank you! We are looking forward to seeing the film.