Cinema, the settler (I): Caroline Damiens, ‘Film exhibition for indigenous people in Soviet Siberia: ‘cinema-coming’ and political enlightenment in the red yurt’, Early Popular Visual Culture, 2023


Abstract: How can we get insights into early Soviet cinema screenings for indigenous audiences in the Siberian taiga at the end of the 1920s? Preserved by the Grodekov Khabarovsk Regional Museum (Russia), the recently published diaries of Alexandra Putintseva, a cultural worker posted at the ‘Far Eastern red yurt’ from 1929 to 1932, are a valuable source to investigate the issue. Putintseva’s diaries provide a wealth of information on movie screenings within these particular Soviet institutions, as well as their reception by indigenous audiences. They show that, far from the common colonial stereotype, indigenous audience was not astonished or frightened in front of the cinematic spectacle or apparatus. Furthermore, they also offer essential information on the immediate context within which these screenings took place, an issue of equal importance in understanding what cinema as a social practice meant for indigenous audiences. Performed in a multifunctional building aiming to radically change (‘modernise’) indigenous (‘traditional’) way of life, cinema was classified as political enlightenment work. As a result, for the indigenous audience, watching films was intimately intertwined with the new Bolshevik society and its modernising endeavour. Ultimately, the diaries illustrate what I have termed ‘cinema-coming’ (when the expected audience does not go to the cinema, cinema ‘comes’ to the audience), in which film exhibition was closely linked to state ideology and the formation of modern citizens.

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