On January 23, 2015, Film at the Institute celebrated the 125th anniversary of Oleksander Dovzhenko’s birth. The screening featured Dovzhenko’s first “talking” movie picture “Ivan.” This event was co-organized with the Ukrainian Film Club of Columbia University, with the support of the General Consulate of Ukraine in New York. Dr. Yuri Shevchuk introduced and discussed the film.

Dovzhenko poster small

This program shed light on the lesser known early films by Dovzhenko, one of the greatest masters of world film. They are important to appreciate Dovzhenko himself, the entire Soviet Ukrainian film and its implications for the contemporary Ukrainian cinema. The program featured episodes from the comedy short Love’s Berry(1927), his first full-length feature The Diplomatic Pouch (1928). Shown in its entirety will be Dovzhenko’s Ivan, the first Ukrainian “talking” movie picture.

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Oleksander Dovzhenko is hands down the greatest Ukrainian filmmaker, and one of the most important in world film history. Yet his three silent masterpieces Zvenyhora, Arsenal, and Earth are celebrated and admired almost always to the exclusion of his other works, both earlier and later. Such films as Love’s Berry (1926), The Diplomatic Pouch (1927), and Ivan (1932) present a Dovzhenko that starkly contradict the socialist-realist icon he largely remains today. They tell a story of a very different master, Dovzhenko the comedian, Dovzhenko the pioneer, Dovzhenko the nationalist. These films, in addition to their unquestionable artistic merits, reveal the Dovzhenko that might have been and was never allowed to become by the Soviet system.

About the film
The film-poem is about the construction of the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Station (Dniprohes), about a Ukrainian peasant youth by the name of Ivan, who along with others comes to build one of the greatest objects of the Soviet industrialization drive. O. Dovzhenko depicts the process of the protagonists transformation caused by industrialization. A majestic panarama of the Dniprohes unfolds in front of the stunned peasant. The voice of an individual is lost in the ding of concrete mixers, steam hammers, locomotives. An industrial accident causes the death of a young worker. His mother runs across the dam as if trying to flee from the satanic machinery that seems to chase her. In a counter-opposing image young strong, and sinewy bodies of construction workers move in the undisturbed rhythm of work. In the process of his transformation into socialist worker, Ivan realizes that physical strength is not enough. He needs to educate himself. In the finale of the film Ivan, is admitted into the Communist party. The university doors fly open for him.

The film is endlessly fascinating in how it tries to reconcile what Dovzhenko has always been–a Ukrainian nationalist, with what he desperately needed to be in order to survive–a mouthpiece of Soviet propaganda.

This film was awarded for the Best Program presented by a State (USSR) at the 1934 Venice International Film Festival.