DOCUMENTARY

900 DAYS

77 min | Russian with English subtitles

Date
November 2011
Client
Zeppers Fim en TV

Distribution & world sales:
Deckert Distribution
Ina Rossow / info@deckert-distribution.com

Distribution North America & Canada:
Icarus Films
Check here
mail@icarusfilms.com
+1(718)488 8900


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Watch this film online:
900 Days (EU) 900 Days (USA)

Broadcasted by:
Ikon/NPO Netherlands, SVT Sweden, ARTE France, ERR Estonia, Planete Poland, YES Israel

AWARDS AND NOMINATIONS

Dioraphte Award for Best Dutch Documentary - IDFA, Amsterdam 2011
Special Jury Prize for Best feature Documentary - ArtDocFest Moscow 2011
Prix du Jury Interreligieux, – Visions du Réel, Nyon, 2012
Special Mention for Grand Prize – Visions du Réel, Nyon, 2012
Special Mention for Magic Hour Award – Planete+Doc Film Festival, Warsaw 2012
Nomination for Estonian People’s Award – Parnu IDF, Estonia 2012
Nomination for Prix Italia – Turin 2012
Nomination Golden Calf for Best Long Documentary – Dutch Film Festival, Utrecht 2012

INTRODUCTION

Is it better to acknowledge the almost unpalatable truth, or to embrace the comfort of a myth? From September 1941 until January 1944, Leningrad was sieged and blockaded by the German army. The nearly three million inhabitants were trapped inside the city like rats. In sub zero temperatures people had to eat glue, leather soles, cats, and sometimes even their fellow human beings. After 900 days, almost a million people had died. All this took place in a country where propaganda was more important than truth. For decades after wards the survivors were forbidden to speak about what had happened to them so that the heroic myth of the “land of victors” would not be undermined. And now, with Putin in power, the myth is being revived. What starts as a film about personal testimonies of the blockade of Leningrad gradually turns into an epic story about how censorship, propaganda and fear get a grip on the memories of the main characters. A struggle that is still going on today.

World première: IDFA November 2011

QUOTES FROM REVIEWS

"Superb! A throat-gripping look at history and its continuing ramifications. Captures in 77 deeply troubling minutes the contradiction between the oficial version of a heroic populace persevering for the Motherland, and the private bitterness of a people disgusted by the way the Soviets and their heirs avoid questions of responsibility. Beautifully integrates past and present...900 DAYS shows that even grasping the horrors on an individual level is ultimately a task few are capable of comprehending." —Variety

"eta ochin mozhjnaya kartina" / "this is a very interesting film"
Vitaly Mansky -  ArtDocFest

"A haunting film, that is not about heroes but about victims, ... a film that peels the crust of propaganda from around the naked body of pain"
IDFA juryreport 2011

"Filled with haunting images, 900 Days offers a grim reminder of the suffering that humans are capable of inflicting on one another and of the gross distortion that governments will indulge in to protect their image. Highly recommended!"
Frank Sweitek - Video Librarian

"And it is particularly clever how Jessica Gorter and her team use the most traditional means that the documentary genre offers — interviews, archive footage — so chillingly controlled and therefore tell a poignant story about shame. Shame to live. A lifetime."
Dana Linssen - Filmkrant (NL)

TRAILER

About the film

Storyline

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This film tells the story of one of the most incredible and, oddly enough, outside of Russia relatively unknown events that took place in the Second World War: the blockade of Leningrad by the Germans. In September 1941, the three million inhabitants of the city were trapped like rats, without food or drinking water. In subzero temperatures people had to eat glue, leather soles, cats, and sometimes even their fellow human beings. When the city opened up again after almost three years, nearly a million people had died. The survivors were marked for life.

The blockade took place in a country where propaganda was more important than truth and where the falsification of history was the norm. Immediately after the war, every form of interest in the blockade was forbidden and from 1960 onwards the Communist propaganda machine pronounced the blockade to be the symbol of national heroism. In that way questions about Stalin’s war policy were avoided, a policy of which the military blunders took the toll of a great many extra lives. In the film, archive material is used from the Secret Service that was recently made public, in which coldly impersonal statistics show the extent of cannibalism in the city and the anger among the people towards their own authorities. It is all the more poignant that in present Russia the heroic version of this tragic history is again widely publicized.

In 900 DAYS some of the survivors speak openly for the first time in their lives about what they actually went through and about the post-war censorship. They still find talking about it very difficult. The myth about their heroic past, which they have cherished for many years sometimes, takes over from the cruel memories, so much more painful and so much blacker. All their lives they have been told they were heroes who guided their country towards victory, but more and more they are becoming aware that true recognition of their suffering and traumas is still far away, even after half a century.

900-days ArtDoc

Credits

Director of Photography: Sander Snoep
Sound Recordist: Menno Euwe
Editor: Daniel Daniel
Sound Design & Mix: Tom Bijnen
Written by Jessica Gorter
Executive Producer: Jorinde Soree, Judith Freriks
Director’s Advisor: Edlef Heeling
Commissioning Editor: Margje de Koning
Producer: Frank van den Engel

Director's Statement

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Russia has always intrigued me with its incongruities, contrasts, unpredictable emotions and turbulent history. When, some years ago, I was working on the film Piter, a history of St Petersburg and seven of its inhabitants in days of a historic transition, I met the 90-year-old Jelena Jakovlevna, who survived the blockade of Leningrad during the Second World War. She confided in me a memory of those days that etched itself in my consciousness: she had entered a house where she saw a whole family sitting around the table, motionless like wax figures. Then she understood: they had starved to death and were frozen. In spite of her ninety years she had never told anyone about this. But every year she proudly took part in the parades in which she and other survivors were cheered and hailed as heroes and victors in the struggle against Nazi Germany. As if she had personally conquered the Germans rather than just managing not to die in the besieged city. The contrast between the public role of a hero that was imposed on her and her personal history, I found both extremely harrowing and incomprehensible.

In all these years the Russian heritage of the Second World War has hardly been digested, certainly in comparison to Western Europe. The official viewpoint is rigid: Stalin was the conqueror; the sacrifices that were made were necessary. On the basis of the story of the blockade I wanted to show how much this version of history makes it almost impossible for people to cope with it and to find a place for the memories that are not in line with the official policy. And even in the present-day Russia of Putin, the heroic myth of this war is still deployed in order to create a heroic image of the country and to reinforce feelings of patriotic solidarity.

900 Days has come forth from my amazement that the pain and the traumas of the survivors are still not being recognized although more than half a century has since gone by. I am fascinated to see how the creation of a legend has in fact eroded the memories of some of the main characters in my film. But I am even more impressed by how other survivors, in spite of many decades of propaganda, have managed to stand by their own version of the truth.

In 900 Days I touch on a universal theme: how do personal memories relate to collective commemorations, and the power of propaganda. The film poses the uncomfortable question whether it is better to know a gruesome truth or to embrace the comfort of a myth. The film does not give unequivocal answers but tries to address these complex problems individually.

Jessica Gorter, October 2011