Must-see films

I will start with two films which any starting cinephile, film director and any citizen of any post-Soviet country, especially of the Russian Federation, should watch by all means. This is the Oleg Sentsov film “Gámer” and the Askold Kurov film “The Trial: the State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov”. I am sure I do not have to explain who Oleg Sentsov is to this website’s subscribers. Yet, I still have to do that as, till filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko, sentenced together with him at the same trial, are kept in the Russian prison, any talk about the cinema with participation of Russians should begin with the demand of their immediate release.

This is not the first time that I appeal to citizens to practice this attitude at any convenient opportunity. However, this is not the only reason for watching Sentsov’s films and films about Sentsov. His debut full-length film “Gámer” (2011, a participant of the prestigious Rotterdam festival) is one of the few realistic dramas describing the social situation in the Crimea at the time before its annexation by Russia (the only other example of a film shot on a similar subject is maybe a meditative criminal drama by a Lithuanian filmmaker Śarūnas Bartas “Seven Invisible Men”).

“Gámer” is a story about a Simferopol teenager idling away his time in the local computer clubs. The filmmaker knows this environment quite well, as, before coming to the cinema, he launched several computer clubs himself. Despite its script failures and problems with acting, “Gámer” remains to be a very true-to life description of its epoch, when computer technologies started to change the everyday life in the post-Soviet provincial cities.

The trial of Sentsov and Kolchenko, who were unlawfully deprived of their Ukrainian citizenship, became the subject of the documentary film by Askold Kurov, which was first shown at the Berlinale this year. “The Trial” by Kurov is practically a flawless example of documentary political cinema, in which the director’s ego and his need for self-expression are intentionally shifted away. The reason for it is that the issue tackled by the film is so urgent and essential that it makes artistic self-expression not exactly possible. Kurov is one of the few people who understand that the imprisonment of Sentsov and Kolchenko is something like an emergency situation for all the film-making community, first of all, for those working in Russia. Their trial is meant, first and foremost, to intimidate people working in art. To work as usual, as if nothing extraordinary has happened, means to succumb to intimidation. It may seem that both films I have already mentioned have nothing in common with the third item on the must-watch list. Yet, it is not so. The film that everyone must see here and now (together with the films of Sentsov and Kurov) is “Me and the Others” by Felix Sobolev, the founder of the unique phenomenon known as the ”Kyiv school of science film”. In the 1960s, films began to be shot at the Kyiv Studio of Popular Science Films which changed the ideas of what the science and education films could be like. Sobolev and his colleagues tried to give up the formal utilitarian approach to the science cinema.

They turned their films into research-based essays and experimental sketches, cooperating with scientists from different areas of knowledge. One of the boldest films shot by Sobolev dealt with social psychology and experiments with human behavior. In the film, Sobolev, together with psychologists, created a situation in which a group of common Soviet citizens convinced another common citizen that black was white without any special efforts taken. The experiment was conducted without any artificial setting, just by recording the documentary footage. Due to this, the film remains not only an important work of the art of cinema but also an outstanding scientific artefact. Its main value for us now is that we can easily recognize ourselves, the consumers of modern mass media and social networks, in it. If you have seen the film, it will be difficult to convince you that an arthouse filmmaker and an anti-fascist activist from the Crimea could be, in fact, underground ultra-rightist terrorists.

© Oleksiy Radynski

Oleksiy Radynski

A documentary filmmaker and writer, and a participant of the Visual Culture Research Center (Kyiv). His films include “Incident in a Museum” (2013), "Integration" (2014) and "People Who Came to Power" (2015, co-directed by Tomáš Rafa), and “Landslide” (2016). His films have been shown at international film festivals DOK Leipzig, Oberhausen, Docudays UA (Kyiv, awarded with the grand prix at the national competition), as well as in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, New York), Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA, London), e-flux (New York), and the Academy of the Arts of the World (Cologne). His texts have been published in the E-flux journal, Political Critique,,, Ukrainska Pravda,, and others.


Oleksiy's article on


“Incident in a Museum” (2013)

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