Samizdat Film Festival: Scotland’s first film event dedicated entirely to cinema from Eastern Europe
With the rise of British nationalism in the last decade, Eastern Europeans in the UK have been subject to negative media reframing, xenophobia and racism. To counter mistreatment and misunderstanding born from the lack of familiarity with the culture and history of the region, Samizdat Eastern European Film Festival is initiating the first ever Scotland-based film event entirely dedicated to the screening of cinema from Eastern Europe.
‘Samizdat’ translates to ‘self-publication’ and refers to the underground circulation of forbidden and censored texts in the Eastern Bloc. This name signifies the nature of the project’s cultural and activist ambitions, which endeavours to promote films that challenge forms of political and social oppression in Eastern Europe, both in the past and present. Film strands will focus on human rights, progressive politics and Ukraine.
We interviewed the Samizdat Film Festival team about their vision and programme.
Making of a festival
Festival Director and curator Andrew Currie introduces the team and describes the conception of the festival: ‘The team who conceived this project comprises a mixture of UK and Eastern European graduate students and film industry workers. The idea for an Eastern European film festival came about last year when we noted that there were no film festivals in Scotland showcasing exclusively Eastern European cinema. We also felt that not enough was being done in the UK to foster wider intercultural understanding and engagement between the public and Eastern European diaspora groups.’
‘We began our project by thinking about what we wanted to achieve as a film festival dedicated to the representation of Eastern Europe in cinema. We decided that Samizdat should seek to promote films whose screening would advance awareness of and reflection on the politics, history and culture of their respective countries.’
‘As we worked on the festival, in February 2022, Russia escalated its invasion of Ukraine to a full-scale war, and it became obvious that we should use our platform to spread knowledge about the tragic consequences of the war and show solidarity with Ukraine. So, as we curated films for the festival, we placed an additional emphasis on Ukrainian cinema and created a dedicated strand in our line-up. This strand features films that either discuss the war directly or simply showcase the brilliance of Ukrainian cinema; we believe that this approach allows us to prompt our audiences to learn more about the war in Ukraine while avoiding defining the country and its culture as exclusively revolving around its invasion by Russia.’
Andrew tells us that the programme is a varied mixture of contemporary and classic films. Some picks are documentaries about the devastation caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine; some are fictional films with Eastern European female protagonists; some portray the life of minority ethnic groups living in Eastern Europe; and more. The line-up is also highly diverse in terms of the regions represented, featuring picks from Georgia and Tajikistan to Latvia and Serbia, and many of these films are UK/Scotland premieres. Most of the films chosen were shot by female directors.
The British context
When asked about the kinds of social and institutional contexts and challenges that Eastern Europeans face in the UK, Samizdat’s curator and accessibility manager Misha Yakovlev writes: ‘Today, Eastern Europeans living in the UK are confronted with a variety of complex challenges. The post-Brexit anti-immigration stance adopted by the UK government, mainstream media and certain segments of the public has created an environment in which Eastern Europeans may feel unwelcome or intimidated. This is indicated by numerous studies that show that Eastern
Europeans, particularly young migrants and first-generation descendants, feel more threatened by the consequences of Brexit with regard to their status as settled citizens and that the Brexit referendum has led to an increase in racism and xenophobia.’
‘We also believe that both the general public and institutions across the UK are relatively unaware of Eastern Europe’s diversity in terms of ethnicity, politics, culture and history, which perhaps contributes to the degree of prejudice and discrimination Eastern Europeans face living in the country,’ notes Misha. ‘As a film festival, we are committed to showing the diversity of stories and experiences of Eastern Europeans as told through film, whether they are ethnic minorities living in Bosnia, queer people from Poland, or indigenous peoples who live in Siberia or Russian-occupied Oceania. To this end, we are also including Central Asian and Caucasus cinema in our programming of the cinema of the “larger Eastern Europe” because this region has been affected by centuries of East (and West) European colonialism.’
A culture of solidarity
Festival Director and curator Harriet Idle tells us, ‘From our perspective, a culture of solidarity signifies the fostering of international, community-led conversation, creation and action, in which members of different communities across Europe are empowered to advocate for each other. Integral to a culture of solidarity for us is the opening up of channels of knowledge and expertise outside of elitist networks since access to such resources helps to better align and unify the needs of a community across class boundaries. It is our belief that film festivals, when structured to take into account the challenges and strengths of its local community, can serve as one of these channels.’ For the Samizdat team, in its efforts to advocate for peace and equality, a ‘culture of solidarity’ is one that provides truly inclusive support and constantly reflects on its own histories and biases.
‘Whilst the recent outpouring of UK support for Ukrainian refugees is great to see,’ Misha adds as an important finishing note, ‘part of it seems to be motivated by a racist image of Ukraine as a white Christian country — particularly as other refugees from non-white countries are not supported. What is also forgotten about is that the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which is a part of Ukraine and the homeland of the Muslim-majority Qırımtatarlar (Crimean Tatar) people, has faced extreme persecution under the Russian occupation of Qırım.’
Samizdat Eastern European Film Festival’s inaugural edition will take place between 27 September and 2 October 2022 at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, UK.