Family: Ludmilla Samokhvalova. Katerina Ksenyeva.
Mamin Yuri Borisovich
Film director, theater director, composer, screenwriter, author, and television host
An honored art worker of the Russian Federation
Born: 8 May 1946 in Leningrad
Career: 1976 to the present
Wife - actress and producer Lyudmila Samokhvalova
Daughter - actress and singer Katerina Ksenyeva
"Chaplin’s Golden Cane" marking 100 years of Charlie Chaplin
Grand Prix Golden Duke
Winner of many grand prizes at international film festivals
Yuri Mamin is the only person in Russia to have won the Chaplin's Golden Cane award. The award was presented by Charlie Chaplin's widow, Oona Chaplin, at the festival marking 100 years since the birth of the great comedian. The festival was held in the Swiss city of Vevey, where Chaplin was buried.
One special thing about Mamin's career - or, more accurately, about its almost non-existence in the totalitarian USSR, as well as in the corporate oligarchy - is the fact that he embodies in his art a vivid portrait of an inspired citizen in the fight for social justice.
Yuri Mamin began his directing career under the communist regime. He was never a communist and was always opposed to the oppressive power of the Communist Party. Because of this, he could not create his films until the beginning of Perestroika in 1985 and Mikhail Gorbachev's arrival to power.
The Gorbachev period ended in 1991 and Yuri Mamin again became a persona non grata for the criminal tycoons who almost immediately took over all the leading positions in Russian cinema and mass media.
From the early 1990’s, a group of official Russian film critics, controlled by the regime, began a period of notorious denigration of the film director and his art. Against this background, Mamin's films won the love of audiences throughout the nation. Almost all of his films received numerous grand prizes and other awards. (See also the offensive official critical reviews in the "Newest History of Russian Film", edited by L. Arkus).
CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
Yuri Mamin was born in 1946. His grandfather, Dmitry Dmitrievich Mamin, was the People’s Commissar of the Petrograd river routes and a descendant of Northern Tatars. He was repressed and shot during Stalin's Great Purge in 1937. According to Yuri Mamin's maternal grandmother, his grandfather considered the writer Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak a relative. Galina Dmitrievna Mamina, the film director’s mother, was an art historian and theater worker who taught theater history at the Leningrad Higher Trade-Union School of Culture. She conducted brilliant, unforgettable lectures that are remembered by her students, who became directors of concert halls and heads of Departments of Culture.
Yuri Mamin inherited his Tatar surname from his mother. His stepfather, Nikolai Nikolaevich Chizhov, was a famous player for the Football Club Zenit in the beginning of the 1950's. Many years later, Mamin would name the main hero of his film "Window to Paris" after his father.
From his talented mother, who played piano beautifully, and his grandfather, who was the life and soul of every party, Yuri Mamin inherited a gift of music and leadership qualities. At first, he wanted to become a pianist and enter the conservatoire, but he broke his arm in a street fight and had to give up his dreams of a musical career.
Immediately after graduating from high school, Yuri applied for the theater directing course at the Leningrad Institute of Theater, Music and Cinematography.
At that time, young people aged 25 years and older were accepted into the directing program, but not of younger age. It was considered, and rightly so, that directors could only be people with life experience, practice working with people, and a cultural knowledge base. But professor Leonid Fyodorovich Makaryev, a People’s Artist of the USSR, liked the 18-year-old boy who, at a colloquium, boldly answered questions about theater, film and literature, Peter Brook and existentialism - a result of his mother’s teaching. An exception was made, and Yuri was accepted into an experimental acting-directing course, where budding directors studied alongside budding actors. They worked on all acting skills, including voice, dance, fencing, etc. Additionally, from the first year on they studied how to put on sketches, fragments and entire plays with their classmates.
It was precisely this collaborative study under the supervision of wise educators and this constant acting-directing practice that gave Yuri Mamin the ability to understand from inside all the fine details of the acting profession and to work confidently with all levels of actors, from untrained beginners to the most experienced stage masters. During his study at the institute, Mamin gained confidence in his skills, participating in student revues and in plays on the stage of the old Youth Theater (TUZ).
It was also there that Mamin met his life's companion, actress and wife, Lyudmila Samokhvalova. They have lived together since then to this very day.
For his graduation play, Yuri Mamin was sent to the regional city of Velikiye Luki, where he was commissioned by the leaders of the local drama theater to direct Denis Fonvizin’s comedy "The Minor" for a high school program. Having decided to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Mamin directed "The Minor" in such an uninhibited manner and with so much eccentricity, that the teachers forbade their students from seeing the play, which caused a frenzy in the city. The play was a resounding success and Mamin's name became famous well beyond the confines of the theater and the city. The Regional Committee discussed a possible position for him as director of the theater. Perhaps it could have happened, and that prestigious position would have tied the young director to the stage career for a long time, if not forever. However, at that time Mamin received his draft notice from the army. He was sent to serve in the Armed Forces and never returned to Velikiye Luki again.
Mamin's service in the military orchestra of a missile unit presented him with a picture of Soviet socialism that he had been lacking and a full understanding of the historical situation in the country. Moreover, Mamin’s theatrical work "One Day in the Life of a Conscript Soldier, A Musician in a Brass Band" was presented to Eldar Ryazanov as an entrance exam for Ryazanov's workshop of comedy film. Ryazanov liked the work and subsequently accepted Mamin. But that happened quite some time after.
TIME OF CHOOSING
After having served his military conscription term, Mamin was demobilized. He returned to Leningrad, where no one but his family was waiting for him. The circumstances were not easy; all the director positions in city theaters were filled. The only opportunity was Lenconcert, where the director's position had just become available. Since Mamin had already worked with this organization before his military service and had delivered to them a variety show that received an award at the All-Russian Competition, Yuri was hired.
The director had many duties at Lenconcert: he staged performances of the readers, singers, illusionists and dancers, and he adapted modern and classical works of literature for the stage. Beyond this, he led the student theater "Podorozhnik" along with the poet and dramatist Vyacheslav Leikin, who would later become the screenwriter for some of Mamin’s films.
DEPARTURE TO FILM
In 1976, under the influence of his wife, Yuri Mamin made a life-changing decision: to try his hand at film. After leaving Lenconcert, he entered Lenfilm as a director’s assistant on a film crew for Sergey Mikaelyan’s movie "Victory Day" ("Widows").
The second director of the film was Viktor Aristov, Mamin’s friend from the theater institute, who had already worked in film for 10 years. He was like Virgil for Dante, Mamin’s guide through the unknown world of cinematography. He particularly helped the theater director understand the differences between film and theater as a director, as well as an actor, and helped to set him on his way to explore the language of cinema.
HIGHER COURSES FOR SCREENWRITERS AND DIRECTORS
Having put in his time as an assistant on a few movies, Mamin, on the advice of his wife, entered the two-year higher course for directors and screenwriters in Moscow. In that year, three workshops were organized: one by Eldar Ryazanov, one by Georgi Daneliya and one by Nikita Mikhalkov.
Ivan Dykhovichny, Vladimir Khotinenko, and Isaak Fridburg studied with Mamin. In total, there were only twelve students. Eldar Ryazanov focused his workshop on the ability to work with screenplays. For each of his lessons he made the students bring their own fresh scripts for short films. At first this was agonizing work for Mamin. After all, he was not a writer and had never aspired to the profession. However, he had to complete the homework of the master. Today he is very thankful to his teacher. Mamin not only always takes part in the screenwriting for his films, but he tries to teach this to his students.
Enrollment from 1979 till 1982 was unique for the course: the students, along with the aforementioned masters, heard lectures from the philosopher M. Mamardashvili, historian N. Eidelman, art critic P. Volkova, and directors A. Mitta and L.Trauberg. Andrey Tarkovsky gave a long series of lectures before he left Russia forever.
His final coursework was the film "Zhelau Vam!" ("I Wish You!"), based on a screenplay written by V. Leikin. Having received the highest grade of 5 on the Russian five-point grading scale, Mamin returned to Lenfilm, but his first independent production would not be for another four years. He returned to his job as the second director and helped his colleague and friend Viktor Aristov to shoot the film "Gunpowder", timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the WWII Victory.
DEBUT IN CINEMA “NEPTUNE’S HOLIDAY”
In 1985, a meeting with the screenwriter Vladimir Vardunas, a playwright with a Gogolian gift, had determined the fate of both cinematographers. After having discovered Volodya, a talented teammate, Mamin confidently entered into the maelstrom of a filmmaker's life.
The first collaborative film of Mamin and Vardunas "Neptune’s Holiday" (1986) was an explosive hit; or, rather, it was like finding a well in the desert. Attendees at the Fifth Congress of Soviet Filmmakers and at writer and journalist conventions responded vigorously to Mamin's work, calling it "the first film of Perestroika".
"Neptune’s Holiday" was honored with a number of professional film prizes, including the Golden Ducat award in Mannheim (1986) and the Charlie Chaplin Great Award in Gabrovo (1987).
Mamin's film "Fountain" (1988), written by Vladimir Vardunas, was unanimously chosen for first prize at the first International Film Festival "Golden Duke" in Odessa. The judging panel, led by Eldar Ryazanov, consisted of the satirist Mikhail Zhvanetsky, journalist Vitaly Korotich, composer Nikita Bogoslovsky and artist Ilya Glazunov.
In 1989, Mamin won the Chaplin's Golden Cane Award for his film "Fountain" in Vevey, Switzerland, the second Chaplin award in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, as well as numerous other awards at different international film festivals.
The actors of the film - Viktor Mikhailov, Sergey Dreiden (Dontsov), Ivan Krivoruchko, Lyudmila Samokhvalova, Zhanna Kerimtaeva and Nina Usatova - won the prize for the best ensemble cast at the festival "Sozvezdie" ("Constellation").
"BAKENBARDY" – "SIDEBURNS"
In 1990, Mamin released the film "Bakenbardy" ("SIDEBURNS"), written by V. Leikin, a brutal Brechtian farce about a fanatical "national-Pushkinist" scholar and his clique. This film was made at a time when a wave of rampant nationalism swept over Russia.
"Bakenbardy" has not yet been released in Russian theaters for ideological reasons. However, it received the prestigious FIPRESCI Award at the film festival in San Sebastian, Spain.
"WINDOW TO PARIS"
Some French friends suggested that Yuri Mamin should make a joint Russian-French film, which led to the creation of the 1993 film "Window to Paris" or "Salade Russe". The film is a prediction about the future of Europe, about the bestial invasion of Russian demoralized businessmen and about the humiliation of the intelligentsia in Russia.
At the end of the film, the main character, Nikolai Chizhov, a school music teacher and a member of the Russian intelligentsia, gives a persuasive speech to the children, who have decided to remain in Paris. In his words: "You were born in a terrible time in a poor, devastated country. But it is your country, after all! Don't you want to make it better?" At that time, this was a rather rare demonstration of patriotism; the authors of the film and all its actors were quite sincere.
As a division of Lenfilm, the film company Troitsky Most refused to participate in financing the project, thus putting the French partners on the edge of financial collapse and threatening the production of the film. Because of this situation, Yuri Mamin was urged to establish his own film company in order to attract support from commercial businesses that were thriving in post-Perestroika Russia. That is how Yuri Mamin's Fountain Fund for Support and Development of Cinematography was created.
The name of the fund, "Fountain", is from Mamin's preceding film that won the grand prize at a French film festival, which had been organized under the patronage of Madame Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of the French then-president François Mitterrand. It was this in particular that facilitated financing for the film "Window to Paris" from the French fund CNC.
The comedy "Window to Paris" attained such success in France and at the Berlin Film Festival that Michael Barker, the co-president of the American distribution company Sony Pictures Classics, arranged for the film to be released in the United States, and twice requested Goskino, the State Committee of Russian Federation for Cinematography, to submit the film "Window to Paris" for the 1994 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Barker wrote: "The response to the film at screenings in Los Angeles and New York has been terrific with both the critics and the audiences. It seems to communicate the message of bringing two cultures together in a warm and enlightening manner... should 'Salade Russe' be the Official Russian Entry to the Academy for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award, we feel confident the picture will not only be nominated for the Award, but has a very good chance to ultimately win the Award itself."
However, at that time Nikita Mikhalkov, with his freshly finished film "Burnt by the Sun", greatly wished to be considered for the Oscar. After the chairman of the Russian Oscar Committee, Elem Klimov, did not agree to submit Mikhalkov’s film to the competition, Mikhalkov demonstrated his outstanding skills in behind-the-scenes intrigues. Elem Klimov was immediately replaced by Mikhalkov's brother, Andrey Konchalovsky, who agreed to send the film "Burnt by the Sun" to the United States. Thus, Mamin was deprived of the opportunity to win the Oscar; what a shame, for if he would have had this opportunity, it would have been fair and just.
The members of the Russian Oscar Committee remain under the control of Nikita Mikhalkov, who shapes the politics of Russian cinematography. Therefore, neither the best nor the most talented films are being submitted to the American Film Academy, but rather the ones created by Mikhalkov's favorite artists. Nikita Mikhalkov is currently Vladimir Putin's cinematography adviser.
The idea of a mystical window, a dimensional portal between Russia and Paris, came to the mind of the Moscow screenwriter Felix Mironer long before Gorbachev's Perestroika. He told this idea to the filmmaker Aleksey German, who sold it 20 years later to Arkady Tigai, Yuri Mamin' co-author, for a bottle of cognac. If Mamin would have undertaken the filming of this story twenty years earlier, he would have been sent to Siberia and nicknamed "Mamin-Sibiryak" like his historical relative. "Mamin-Sibiryak" means "Mamin the Siberian".
"Window to Paris" may be truly called a people's film. It is the most famous of all Yuri Mamin’s works, and is loved by millions of viewers around the world. Many quotations from the film have become folk proverbs.
"You used to raise builders of communism, now you are raising builders of capitalism, but the product remains the same: a brute, a know-nothing and a thief," says Nikolai Chizhov, the teacher of music and literature, angrily to the business managers of the lyceum.
"You were born in a terrible time in a poor, devastated country. But it is your country, after all! Don't you want to make it better?" says the same teacher, Chizhov, to his students on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris.
Patriotic films may be understood in different ways. It is possible to make colorful trash with a multi-million dollar budget drawn on government funds acquired through an acquaintance with the prime minister. But it is also possible to make something like all Mamin's films: coming from the soul, touching the heart and forcing you to think, without flattery and hypocrisy, sometimes hurtful, somewhat ugly and unpleasant, but always truthful and honest, scathing and passionate, in the spirit of such great artists as Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, Alexander Pushkin and Vladimir Korolenko, Leo Tolstoi and Maxim Gorky. For this one needs to have a pure soul and to be a deeply decent person, citizen and humanist. This is how Yuri Mamin will be remembered in the history of cinematography.
A TRIBUTE TO A FRIEND
In 1994, after the death of his friend, film director Viktor Aristov, Yuri Mamin completed Aristov's film "Rains in the Ocean". In that year the film received two awards at the film festival "Kinoshok" for innovative directing and best actress.
STAGE WORK: "THE KREMLIN CHIMES"
In the same year, 1994, Yuri Mamin put on his new play, "Kremlin Chimes, or Come to Us After... Many Years", at the Theater on Liteiny in Saint Petersburg. Mamin wrote this play together with Arkady Tigai. In the play there were two Lenins, played with great success by Viktor Sukhorukov and Aleksandr Zhdanov. Perhaps in this play Yuri Mamin wished to return to his youth; "Kremlin Chimes" was abundant with jokes and gags. Dmitry Bykov, a famous writer, journalist and television personality, came twice to Moscow to see this play that he considered "one of the best examples of modern satire," as he remarked in his radio program on City FM.
MOVING TO TELEVISION
Mamin's return to the stage was not caused by nostalgia, but by the inability to continue working in cinematography. The government had halted funding the creation of films, and private commercial firms did not support cinema. During this period, movies were shot on cheap, low-grade film, which by international standards would be considered trash.
Because of this situation, Yuri Mamin moved to television at the end of 1994 and began hosting educational, humorous, musical and original TV programs such as "From Forte to Piano" and "Chameleon" for the channel RTR. These programs were highly appreciated by artists and became popular among the intelligentsia.
In 1997 Mamin was approached by private investors to film a funny, non-satirical, entertaining comedy about weddings.
He gathered his closest associates, including Vladimir Vardunas and Arkady Tigai, and together they came up with a screenplay for a film consisting of ten short stories.
The film was released in theaters in 1998, and went on to win the award for best comedy film at the festival "Window to Europe" in Vyborg, Russia.
“GRIM TALES FROM RUSSIA”
From 2000 to 2003, Yuri Mamin's bright spirit of social activism was embodied in the independent satirical television series "Grim Tales From Russia", which was similar to the American series X-Files, but projected into Russian reality. The producer of the series was Ali Telyakov, a young businessman who had previously worked with Yuri Mamin on other TV programs.
The series "Grim Tales From Russia," which totaled eighteen episodes, was shown on the federal channel STS. The series was so radically different from the other projects on the channel that the management could not decide when the series should be shown. Finally, a "wise" solution was found: the series was aired at night when the majority of viewers were sleeping.
However, the population in the Russian regions to the east of Moscow greatly appreciated the originality of "Grim Tales From Russia". Multitudes of fans were troubling the director during the following years with the question: where one can find the full series
The Saint Petersburg company "Bomba-Piter" released the "Grim Tales From Russia" on DVD in 2009; the series immediately appeared online on pirate websites.
"DON’T THINK ABOUT WHITE MONKEYS"
In 2005, Yuri Mamin’s wife, actress and producer Lyudmila Samokhvalova, and their daughter, Katerina Ksenyeva, convinced the distinguished film director to return to the big screen. They found investors who supported his socially critical film "Don’t Think About White Monkeys," written together with Vladimir Vardunas and rendered into verse by the poet Vyacheslav Leikin. The film has a second name, given in the captions: "Chaldean Face."
The financial support for the film was obtained slowly, with long breaks in between; the work stopped for months at a time on more than one occasion. For that reason, the director, as an experienced, skilled worker capable of fulfilling tasks within a tight schedule, had been working on this film for over three years.
However, if not for the financial support of a few honorable people - successful Russian businessmen - the film would never have been finished. Nevertheless, it was completed in 2009 and was successfully shown at a number of film festivals. The film opened in limited release.
Even before its release, the film was fiendishly stolen by criminals who produced pirated DVDs and distributed the film illegally on the internet, thus causing great financial difficulties for the film's sales in Russia. Nevertheless, after having won two prestigious grand prizes at international film festivals in England and Morocco (Rabat), western distributors became interested in the film. It is slated to be dubbed into English by the famous British sound engineer Ray Gillon.
Notably, it will be the first time in the history of cinema that a Russian film in verse will be translated poetically into English verse.
The film premiered successfully in the United States (New York and Minneapolis), France, Portugal, Lithuania, Ukraine, Canada and Germany.
The mystical ballad "Insomnia", sung in the film by the actress Katerina Ksenyeva, is very popular with its listeners.
Yuri Mamin’s film "Don’t Think About White Monkeys" won the first prize at the first ever online film festival, “Double 2”, organized by the Russian Gazette ("Rossiyskaya Gazeta"). During the festival, the competing films were watched in 56 countries all around the world, thus proving that a mindful and soulful film can, indeed, be victorious.
Today, Yuri Mamin conducts a master studio for directors of screen entertainment at the Saint Petersburg Institute for Television, Business and Design. He regularly holds professional classes in Russia and abroad.
In addition, he is the creator and host of the educational program "House of Culture" on the Saint Petersburg channel TV-100 (http://www.tv100.ru/program/view/5303/), where he speaks on the defense of citizen rights, about the values of world culture, and about the protection of the environment and of animals in grave danger of extinction in Russia.
Yuri Mamin is a member of the International Tibet Support Network. He is also a member of the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights and is a staunch opponent of hunting.
The TV program "House of Culture" is run in an interactive fashion whereby Yuri Mamin engages in direct discussions with viewers on matters of public concern.
Besides the aforementioned program, Yuri Mamin released the satirical TV journal “Shards” (“Oskolki”). Seven episodes of “Shards” appeared on TV-100 in 2010.
Yuri Mamin has a number of new film projects in the works, including "Window to Paris 201…", "Rockman" and "Dangerous Resemblance".
© Katerina Ksenyeva 2011