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The Rise and Fall of Moldova-Film

Moldova-FilmWith the faded glamour of the Oscar Academy Awards and the fizzled out gossip of the Cannes Festival this may be the best opportunity to bring the spotlight of general attention to the national heritage of the film making industry.

The 50th anniversary of the Moldova-Film Movie Studio has been mercilessly overshadowed by other dazzling events. Subsequent to a 10-year precipitous downfall the studio continues to make disheveled attempts to scramble back into glory. The celebration was deliberately hushed up since there was little to compare the once powerful and self-supporting 60-70’s Moldova-Film that was among the four top former USSR movie studios to today’s on the brink of ramshackle.

For the past twelve years the studio has been struggling to survive the era of economic turbulence. According to specialists it requires approximately 1-1.5 million lei to cover its primary expenses whereas the proceeds constitute only about 200 thousand lei annually. On the film industry scale a 10-minute documentary costs as much as 100 thousand lei while a motion picture of the same length several times more.

In the last decade joint Moldova, Romania and Russian efforts have resulted in producing one feature film Prokrustovo Loje (directed by S. Prodan and V. Miline) and work is currently underway on Bastard based on a story by Negruzzi about A. Lopushneanu. Help was rendered to various film companies and directors in the production of a range of documentaries and features. Rigorous efforts on the part of the Moldova-Film crew have helped preserve shooting equipment and expensive costumes – all a relic of the past.

Technology has taken a giant leap to Kodak filming. Moldova simply does not have at its disposal the modern tools required to tackle the recommencement of a complete production cycle at the studio. Dolby Digital sound is a compulsory characteristic of any American or European and most Russian movies while Moldova does not have the elementary montage equipment. Lagging a decade behind film-industry leaders, Moldova-Film has not been allocated any money at all in the past several years.

According to Mircea Chistruti, secretary of the Union of Directors, what’s left of the creative potential today remains uncalled for. Play writers, directors, cameramen, actors and other specialists have been forced to look for jobs abroad. “Some film producers,” said Chistruti, “like V. Gajiu, N. Ghibu, and S. Bulicanu have been trying to stay afloat in the unsettled waters of new economic relationships – in the world of marketing – which is extremely difficult without the support of the government. American movies dominate the market in most European countries. An entire generation of Moldovans has already been brought up on American thriller and horror. Even France has been battling off the callousness of the big screen until it decided to invest box office profits into the development of the national film industry.

NIT television channel held a public poll about the popularity of Moldovan films and directors. Out of 80 people in the streets of Chisinau few could recall at least one name that would relate to the movie industry in Moldova. The 70’s phenomena of our poetic and aesthetic films that nurtured several generations appertains the past. Even in Romania where the film industry had taken quite a different, literature based course, Moldovan original productions were welcomed and appreciated.

Looking back into history in January 1957 the Chisinau affiliate of Odessa Studio was reorganized into an independent documentary and feature studio Moldova-Film. Over 160 feature films, 1500 documentaries and scientific movies, and 110 animated cartoons are aging in the storage rooms of Moldova-Film – everything that was ever produced there, forgotten and unrevealed to the young.

Moldova-Film begun its work with a film based on the script by Ion Druta Early Cherries (Rannia Ceriemuha) starring Moscow Theatre and Art University students, leading actors of the Luceafarul theatre Valentina Ibeshuik, Vladimir Zaiciuk, Ion Ungureanu and experienced actors like Trifan Gruzin and Constantin Konstantinov A managing group from Moscow that included director and producer Grigori Komariski and cameraman Joseph Martov was appointed to Chisinau.

The second movie production Ataman Codr, coming out onto the big screen in 1958 put Moldova-Film ahead of most other studios in the former Soviet Union. Olga Uritskaia started filming and young university graduates Mihail Kalik and Boris Ritsarev finished her work with cameraman Vadim Derbenev. Three successful debuts took place that year those of Iva Poliakova, Ina Klist and Alexander Shirvind. With its folkloric theme Ataman Kodr received two awards at the Kiev 1959 Film Festival, one went to Derbenev and the other to soundtrack composer D. Fedov. More than 100 different countries bought the film.

The Lullaby (Kolibelnaia) brought about the next heave of success directed by Mihail Kilik and filmed by Vadim Derbenev. During the Day of Literature and Art in Moscow in 1960 The Lullaby received overwhelming praise. It was suggested to send this movie to the Cannes Festival from the Soviet Union but Moscow-Film Studio resisted and participated instead. Nevertheless The Lullaby was played without competing and obtained excellent critic reviews.

A significant step forward for the studio was The Man Walks After the Sun (script by Valeri Gaji and Mihail Kalik). The film crew included director Mihail Usolotsev. Mihail Tariverdiev one of the greatest Russian composers of his time wrote the music to the film. However the movie had an ill fate. A brief episode featuring three women in tight outfits performing a modern dance routine aroused the indignation of Nikita Krushiov at the Kremlin preview. It undulated to Chisinau where Ivan Bodiul, then leader of the governing body in Moldova, ordered secretary Postovoi to bury the film. Attempts to restitute the film were made by Moscow director Grigori Ciuhrai while Moldova-Film general manager Victor Shevelov was laid off. Notwithstanding The Man Walks After the Sun was awarded several prizes at a number of international film festivals. Anatoli Papanov, Evgheni Evstigneev, Ion Ungureanu, and Dumitru Fusu created memorable movie characters. Mihail Kalik was obliged to leave the country and go abroad. His career as a film director came to an abrupt end but his movies are landmarks in the history of the Moldovan film industry.

Directed by V. Derbenev and based on a play by Ion Druta The Last Month of Autumn was one of the most popular and talented Moldova-Film productions. St. Petersburg university-graduate Evgheni Lebedi played the leading role that of a simple peasant. In 1966 Gorkie Zerna (Bitter Seeds, directed by Valeriu Gajiu and Vadim Lisenki, camerawork Vatili Kalashnikov) appeared on the big screen in Moldova.

The arrival at Moldova-Film of talented director Emil Loteanu started a new era with Red Meadows (camerawork Ion Bolbogan and Vlad Ciurea) about village farmers, and This Moment (camerawork Vlad Ciurea) about the gypsy drama. At the Film Festival in Minsk the latter was appraised with the Crystal Vase award. With Lautari and Tabor Uhodit v Nebo (Gypsy Camp Leaves for the Sky) Loteanu continued his career. Composer Eugeniu Doga and orchestra conductor and leading actor Sergey Lunkevici contributed to the making of Lautari. At the International Film Festival in San Sebastiano in Spain the film was awarded the Silver Shell and in Naples in Italy – the Silver Nymph.

On its creative peak Moldova-Film releases a historic movie Dmitrie Cantemir, directed by Vlad Iovitsa with camerawork by Vitali Kalashnikov. The role of Peter I was played by Moscow Soviet Army Theatre actor Alxander Lazarev. Mihail Volontir, famous Moldovan actor, starred as Dmitirie Cantemir. Awarded at the Bacu Festival the film received warm praise.

The last of the prosperity and creative initiative at Moldova-Film was Charged With Murder, directed by Boris Volcek, written by L. Agranovici, starring E. Kozelkova. In 1971 it was presented with the State USSR distinction prize.

In the 60-70’s it was an honor for any actor of the former Soviet Union to star in a Moldova-Film production. Nowadays things have changed, S. Toma, G. Grigoriu, I. Druta, and E. Doga have moved from Moldova to seek self-expression elsewhere. The studio is currently going through its most trying period ever, the period of oblivion and listlessness on the part of the prospective audience. First Deputy of the Minister of Culture Veaceslav Madan believes the future of Moldova-Film should be put into the hands of foreign investors, “We cannot just look at how it is all falling apart, something has to be done to give the studio a new life”.

In most European countries film studios are subsidized by the national government. Moldovan films have flourished on the basis of tradition and centuries of historic legacy, helping establish morals and esthetic values. That is why one of the points on President Voronin’s agenda today is the revival of Moldova-Film and with it the phenomena of Moldovan art.

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