Evoking Soviet Dreamworlds: The Sovexport Documentaries at the EYE Filmmuseum
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The present study aims to contextualize Soviet propaganda films from the so-called Era of Stagnation (1964–1980), based on evidence retrieved during original archival research at the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. The undertaken discovery on the Sovexport Collection brings its content to the scholarly attention by revealing a number of paradoxes in the representation of the Soviet utopia. Pursuing an extensive empirical and theoretical study of the Sovexport films with the aim to throw light at their semi-fictional features, my methodology evolves within the broader framework of the semio-pragmatic approach to documentaries, which demonstrates when films can be considered as non-fiction. After having searched for the authentication tools used by filmmakers to produce the documentaries’ meaning, I bring to the fore the visions of space, nature, and technology seen as part of the utopian Communist grand narrative documented in the Sovexport films. As a result, I delineate two types of nostalgia nurtured by the dreamworlds of the examined documentaries. The first prevails in today’s Russia where nostalgia is of a reflective kind, and filmmakers emphasize that mostly individuals alien to the Soviet era and its realities are fascinated by the Communist utopia. In turn, non-fictional films created in the West display an evoked enchantment with the Soviet utopian model, which goes beyond the mere symbols of “Sovietness”. The unveiled evidence shows that Soviet ideology is depicted as holding transformative power for the future. This can be further observed when comparing the Sovexport films with contemporary documentaries produced in the West, as the latter follow a similar strategy of blurring fiction and reality. Filling a gap in the study of Soviet cinema, the thesis thus provides a new impetus for making, viewing, and analyzing documentary films in accord with history and its complexities.