By Katrin ROTHE


Animation - Completed 2017

A cut-out animation on artists in times of revolution.

St. Petersburg 1917. The frontline of the global war is coming closer everyday; people are hungry, worried, angry. In February the tsar is overthrown. Many artists are euphoric: Revolution! Freedom! Freedom, finally? No. Starting in October, the Bolsheviks rule by themselves. What were poets, thinkers, and avant-gardists like Maxim Gorky and Kazimir Malevich doing during this drastic change of power? In the film, five of them alight from the director’s piles of books as animated cut-out figures. With their own recorded words in their mouths, they participate in salons, committees, and street riots: moments during which the outcome of the history is still unknown.

& Awards

International Animation Film festival Annecy, France 2017
Solothurn Film Festival Switzerland 2017
Moscow International Film Festival 2017
BIAF - Bucheon International Animation Festival, South Korea 2017
International Film festival "Russia Abroad", Moscow 2017
Best Documentary Award
Mostra - Sao Paulo International Film Festival, Brazil 2017
in competition
St. Louis International Film Festival, USA 2017
Arras Film Festival, France 2017
    • Year of production
    • 2017
    • Genres
    • Animation, Documentary, Historical
    • Countries
    • Languages
    • Budget
    • 0.3 - 0.6 M$
    • Duration
    • 90 mn
    • Director(s)
    • Katrin ROTHE
    • Producer(s)
    • Synopsis
    • 1917 – The Real October is a cinematic retelling of the Russian Revolution. Based partially on previously unknown source material, diaries, reports, and literary works of her animated protagonists, the two-time Grimme-Award-winner Katrin Rothe undertakes a multi-perspective interrogation of what is nowadays known as “October Revolution.”

      What happened in Saint Petersburg, then known as Petrograd, during the time between the uprisings in February that forced the Tsar to abdicate and the takeover of power by the Bolsheviks in October? During this phase of the Provisional Government (a diarchy of the parliament Duma as well as the Soviets, the workers’ council) Russia drowned in chaos and anarchy. Amidst the on-going world-war it remained without a binding constitution. Why was no civil-parliamentary democracy formed? How did the return of Lenin and Trotzky change the situation in springtime? Which side had when and where how many military or other forces of arms?

      The director’s attention is focused on the developments within a dangerous instable power vacuum. Along the historic chronology of the events she dives, along with her figures, into their social, cultural, and national policy discourse, into private worlds of thought, bold visions, and flaming pleas – into contradictory, vivid opinions, which change during the course of the events. Out of the diverse reflexions of these artistic contemporaries, a trenchant differentiation of the two revolutions of the year emerges.

      How world famous the film’s protagonists would become is still unknown at the time of the occurrences. In 1917 all of them are cultivating contacts to each other as well as to various sections of the community in St. Petersburg. The lyricist Zinaida Gippius (voiced by Nicolaia Marston), then 47 years of age, lives opposite the Tauride Palace, the parliament building, in which the discordant Provisional Government confers separately. She is friends with several ministers and many a paper of grave political importance is authored on her kitchen table. The established painter and critic Alexandre Benois (Michael Morris), 47, as well as the internationally acknowledged writer Maxim Gorky (Trevor Rolling), 49, are already well established in Russia’s cultural life. Both fear the destruction of art and creativity. The bustling avant-gardist and soldier Kazimir Malevich (Paul Bendelow), 38, proves himself as a resourceful organiser and publishes one manifest after another. Vladimir Mayakovsky (Steve Hudson), the 25-year-old eccentric poet, tirelessly dashes through the city, is everywhere where it is dangerous and tangles with the older artists. He is dreaming of a new world and a radically different, truly democratic art.

      Zinaida Gippius, the poetic “chronographer” of the occurrences of 1917 writes in February: “Like everyone else, I can’t get to grips with these times” and in autumn: “There is […] no more homeland.” Almost one hundred years later, the film artist Katrin Rothe sweeps together the colourful snippets of her cut-out figures and scenarios on the floor of her study. The inserted real-life scenes with her as a questioning and arraying narrator (voiced by Danielle Green) link the animated pictures together. Left unsatisfied by the reading of plenty of historical scholarly books, she searches for and finds more vivid thoughts, observations, and “truths” in the contemporary testimonies of the artists. At the same time, a chronological timeline of the historical facts grows gradually underneath her hands – ultimately woven around by a weave of “red threads”: the approach remains as many-voiced as life itself, even in the re-constructing retrospect.

      The visual aesthetics of the film are orientated towards that of the then-contemporaries (i.e. the eager to try new things, heavily abstract, explicit design-vocabulary of the Russian avant-gardists) and unfolds, adopted into today’s world with plenty of charm, an entirely autonomous style. Its unabashed imaginative mixture of artistic and filmic means is characteristic for 1917 – THE REAL OCTOBER. Various materials such as cardboard, cords, and fabric join together to form the characteristic main characters, which “awake” as cut-out animations with complex and highly variably facial expressions, gestures, and body language. At the same time not even a tiny piece of bubble wrap or fake fur denies its actual texture; if anything, the material plays an important part in the finished composition. The interiors, backgrounds, and city panoramas combine serigraphy, fine line drawings, and colourized tableaus of various different cue states, in front of which the protagonists turn up, as well as paper cuttings of demonstrating masses, dancing couples, marching troops, and three-dimensional collages. Historical black and white shots complement the dramatic composition with impressive references to the layer of the actual historical events and their existential dimension. Just as the visual, so is the auditory aspect of the film a stringently mixed cooperation of heterogenic elements. Specially composed music by Thomas Mävers, noises, historical sound on tape, tonal atmospheres and the speaking voices compose a river of layers with different density that reinforces the pictures’ moods and enriches them at the same time.

      For the first time 1917 – The Real October illuminates the historical subject on the basis of applicable artist biographies and thus debates superordinate, timelessly relevant culture-historical and culture-theoretical aspects at the same time: what role do arts and artists play, what role can they even play in turmoil, awakenings, and upheavals of established social systems? Where and how do they promote the events themselves with their compositions, ideas, and visions in an explanatory, propagandizing, and doubting way? Do they take a stand for the preservation of the cultural and artistic heritage? Or for renewal programmes that entail the destruction of the old? What is their leeway in this endeavour? What happens to the arts when life itself is in danger? What relations did and do artists bear to political structures, to state and financial powers? Can art ever be truly democratic? Is artistic autonomy or collective self-administration possible? How? Within the film, the acts and thoughts of the protagonists answer these questions in different ways. All of the artists perceive what happens differently, process it individually in their own reflexions and works, in their everyday-lives and political commitments, and thus return it to their surroundings, where it is cultivated further. In the concreteness of the year of the Russian Revolution cultural history manifests exemplarily as a sum of historical circumstances, occurrences, and personal fate.