May 26th, 2010

drawing, old man

Translations by students at the University of California, Santa Cruz

At least one higher education institution is helping to translate Russian animation. To quote from the channel description of UCSantaCruzRussian:
Under the supervision of Professor Bill Nickell, students at the University of California, Santa Cruz have been transcribing, translating, and subtitling Russian-language animation recorded off of Russian television or found online. As part of a growing community of Russian animation fans and hobbyists, UCSantaCruzRussian hopes to share our love for Russian culture with others and make a wealth of animated films available to more people.

Student Dennis Keen controls the Youtube channel, and has translated most of the recent uploads. Back in March, I sent a private message to him, expressing my admiration for the project, but also expressing some reservations about the selections, which I felt weren't that interesting artistically. I received the following reply:

I think I should clarify a little my situation, so that the selection of films that have been uploaded so far can be put in the proper context. My professor has been working on this project for a couple years now. Several students have worked with him. The professor, Bill, would give the students a CD of a random assortment of films he had recorded off of television, and they would translate whichever ones they chose. Now, until I came along, none of his students had any interest in Russian animation. They did the translations quickly for easy credit, and did not put much thought into which videos to translate. The videos I've posted so far are their work, and I can't speak for their quality.

I appreciate your pointers, but I'm pretty familiar with big names in Russian animation. I've seen the entire Films by Jove series and have watched most of the films listed on the Animatsiya wiki. I have no problem finding films that are interesting that I would love to translate. However, my Russian skills simply are not developed enough to do so. I have only been studying the language for a few years, and I have a very hard time completing even a full transcription of the Russian in these videos (non-native speakers have a lot of difficulty with word boundaries, and distinguishing between certain consonants).

So my compromise is that I've tried to find films that are interesting and have a textual source which I can use to translate. These are still being worked on, but I think you'll find them much more compelling than the ones uploaded already.

And indeed, the more recent selections have been quite interesting! I'll list them here:

"The Grand Relay" by Ivan Aksenchuk (1979, Soyuzmultfilm)

Made for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, this wordless film shows, in a Greek-influenced artistic style, the history and value of the Olympics - how the torch was passed from the Greek era to the modern era.

Some other subtitled films by Aksenchuk: The Little Mermaid, Cinderella.

"The 25th - the First Day" by Yuriy Norshteyn and Arkadiy Tyurin (1968, Soyuzmultfilm).

A short film made by Yuriy Norshteyn for the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution, "The 25th - the First Day" recounts that day using art from the [1910s and 1920s]. Look out for Tatlin's Tower and Petrov-Vodkin's "Petrograd Madonna." The film features music by Dmitri Shostakovich, poetry by Vladimir Mayakovsky, and a rousing speech by V.I. Lenin.

Perhaps most importantly, it is one of the few films by Yuriy Norshteyn that is rarely seen, and has never been fully subtitled in English, until now.

This is definitely a propaganda film. But Yuriy Norshteyn has said that he wasn't forced into making it; he loves the art of that time period, and wanted to make a film using it. At the time that he made this film, though, the art styles of the early 1920s were no longer in fashion, and this film was a bit risky, despite being propaganda. Higher-ups asked him to change the end of the film and include a monologue by Lenin. Norshteyn, worried that his reputation would suffer if he got into a conflict on his very first film as director, acquiesced. After he saw the result, he vowed to himself that he would never again compromise. (no list of sources, sorry. If you really need it, I can probably find the original texts where he said those things - it will take some searching, that's all...)

"Vanya and the Crocodile" by Nataliya Dabizha (1984, Soyuzmultfilm).

An adaptation of the classic story "The Crocodile" by the famous Russian children's author, Korney Chukovsky. This charming film features puppet and cutout animation and a wonderfully playful visual style.

Dabizha uses the visuals of the film to add a second meaning that wasn't in the story. The text itself says nothing about the character of the crocodile, and the film becomes almost a satire on the story, and a parable about intolerance.

"Thank You, Stork!" by Anatoliy Solin (1978, Soyuzmultfilm)

A beautifully animated short about a stork's effort to find a loving home for an unwanted baby. Wonderful design, typography, and music.

A film about the wrong ways to treat a baby...

"Vasana" by Maria Stepanova (2006, no studio)

Sand animation by Maria Stepanova, featuring hypnotic sitar and throat singing and hallucinogenic images from the subconscious.

"Grand-ma!" by Yelena Barinova (1982, Kievnauchfilm)

A young boy calls for his grand-ma whenever a local bully picks on him. Soon he learns to stand up for himself, if only to impress a girl he likes. Great animation and imaginative daydream sequences.

"The Ingot" by Vladimir Samsonov (1983, Ecran)

Animated PSA about saving metal, from the Soviet Union. English subtitles. Wordless, but with Russian text and English subtitles.

A worker shaves down a giant metal ingot just to make a little pushpin. Moral of the story: Don't waste state resources!

Samsonov is more known for making wonderful animated poems and satirical musicals. This is just one of those simple "public-service" films that studios sometimes had to make.

"Conserve Bread" by Aleksandr Tatarskiy (1982, Ecran)

Animated public service announcement urging Soviet citizens to save bread. Wordless, but with some Russian text and English subtitles.

I saw this, and thought "this has got to be from Kievnauchfilm"... well, I was close. It's by Tatarskiy, who started there and then moved to Moscow. But the Ukrainian (specifically, David Cherkasskiy-influenced) style is really obvious.