Vladivostok, Russia

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All content © James Chressanthis, ASC, GSC

Vladivostok: A Soviet Time Machine

I walked Vladivostok looking everywhere. I can’t read any signs so I focus completely on the people, what they are doing, details of dress, what they carry, their energy. It’s busy here, jammed with traffic but as packed as the streets are the sidewalks flow with people, most walk with purpose, the ones that wait sit with intention. The light is amazing, a silky veil of marine clouds softens the edges, it often glows.

I’m shooting a black and white photographic portrait so in keeping with this city’s face: harbor, ships, train station, shopping districts, pedestrian underpasses filled with little shops, new construction everywhere beside decaying buildings and crumbling roads, passageways, begging bubuschas and striking, gorgeous fashionistas (are all the Russian women so beautiful?) strutting on amazing heels, North Korean laborers digging with picks and shovels, choking traffic jams of Japanese cars, army trucks and smoky diesel buses, the whole city a fifties Soviet time machine pasted with gaudy billboards, bustling with the brightly dressed carrying Blackberries and iPhones.

I conduct a filmmaking seminar workshop at Far Eastern State Technical University. The students are bright, friendly and optimistic. They smile so much I kid them that they defy the stereotype of dour Russian pessimism. They laugh at that, they want to be free of their Soviet baggage and the opening of my film No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos reminds them of their grandparents world only half known through the propaganda of official history versus first hand accounts. You get the feeling they want to throw that deadweight overboard but can’t. I point out parallels in the American experience that they have to “own” their history to ultimately be free of it (or free of repeating it). Through their lives Laszlo and Vilmos show us that out of great tragedy can come great art and beauty and ultimately forgiveness and renewal. When talk turns to the corporate and political oligarchs or Putin, an unspoken tension arises, looks and shrugs acknowledging that this is the big problem and challenge of their time.