Writer / filmmaker Alexander Markov
Country of production RUS
Running time in minutes 45
Genre Documentary Found Footage
Viewers interested in African history, Soviet history, and the history of the Cold War, and fans of found footage as well.
A Soviet filmmakers created socialism in Africa on celluloid.
Alexander Markov about film
In 1960, seventeen African countries gained their independence. For the two superpowers, competing for influence in the Cold War, these “new” countries were obvious opportunities for deploying their own power. Under Khrushchev’s Thaw, Soviet foreign policy increasingly focused on Africa and the Arab world, which became priorities for proactive Soviet diplomacy.
The 1960s thus witnessed the heyday of African studies in the Soviet Union.
A number of Soviet filmmakers were dispatched to the continent to produce newsreels and documentary films whose mission was to record the “friendships” between the Soviet socialist specialists at the helm of scientific progress and the African socialist hopefuls who had just broken free from the yoke of colonialism.
The films were given titles such as Hello, Africa!, We Are with You, Africa!, and Good Luck to You, Africa!, to convey that desire for friendship unambiguously, and to contrast starkly with films produced on the other side of the Iron Curtain, such as the notorious Italian documentary about the “dark continent,” Farewell Africa (Addio Africa, 1966), which speculated that civil wars and bloody conflict would set the continent ablaze after the European colonialists exited it.
Despite the fact that Soviet film production was centralized in Moscow and Leningrad, studios in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan also produced documentaries about Africa.
There was also an interest among Soviet filmmakers in documenting wars of independence and armed conflicts (Ethiopia, Libya, Algeria, Congo, Egypt, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, and Namibia), but such films were produced differently. Only cameramen were dispatched to film on location, and most of them were veteran WWII cinematographers.
The dramatic structure of these Soviet documentaries about Africa produced in the 1960s and 1970s is perhaps where the ideological conditioning is most palpable. Almost all fit into a particular generic scheme or pattern, because they were commissioned by a state that valued ideology more than the art of documentary cinema.
The footage was edited to fit a script, drafted in the studio back in Moscow or Leningrad, and narrated in a voiceover. Soviet composers were also commissioned to provide the musical scores. In other words, the soundtracks rarely featured sound from the locations where they were filmed, and the voices of everyday Africans were almost entirely absent. Instead, the Soviet narrative carefully guided the viewer’s experience of the moving images.
My film is a whirlwind overview of the views, desires, and policies embodied in the systematic work of Soviet film crews in Africa from 1960 to 1990.
I see no point in duplicating and promoting propaganda. My idea is to deepen the poignancy of Soviet newsreels and documentary films about Africa, to render the propaganda even more propagandistic, and thus сall its bluff in certain excerpts and extinguish its “bold flame” in others.
My research involves shifting the emphasis by undertaking a fast-paced review of the entire corpus of Soviet films about Africa in which I identify the most important and recurrent themes and motifs. In the process of this research, I trace how Soviet views of Africa and plans for Africa evolved over three decades, finally vanishing into oblivion altogether.