Cornell University Press

Filmmaking Under Stalin

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In Not According to Plan: Filmmaking under Stalin, Maria Belodubrovskaya reveals the limits on the power of even the most repressive totalitarian regimes to create and control propaganda. The book’s revisionist account of Soviet filmmaking between 1930 and 1953 highlights the extent to which the Soviet film industry remained stubbornly artisanal in its methods, especially in contrast to the more industrial approach of the Hollywood studio system.

In this Q&A, author Maria Belodubrovskaya discusses the process of researching and developing a new approach to Soviet cinema under Stalin.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book? 

Literature on Soviet film tells us that Stalin was involved with the making of many Soviet films and edited many screenplays. The best moment was when at the Russian State Archive for Social and Political History I saw the marginalia Stalin left on the very few screenplays he did read. The marginalia were extremely limited. On one screenplay, Stalin wrote: “Good. See my edits on pp. 15 and 67.” On pp. 15 and 67, his edits were: cross out the word “Koba,” Stalin’s political nickname, and replace with “Stalin.” So much for the “general producer” of Soviet cinema Joseph Stalin. 

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now? 

That it would be very hard to change people’s minds about who was in charge of Soviet cinema under Stalin. I am now writing my second book on this period to approach the same story from the point of view of the period’s films. I want to see how much propaganda these films actually contained and what, if not propaganda, made them tick in general. 

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Russian and Eurasian Studies? 

I would like Soviet cinema to be considered normal. Not ideological, but normal practice within ideological constraints. If we only see it through the lens of ideology, we miss a lot. I also want the films of the Stalin period to be seen and the filmmakers to be studied. I hope that my work and the work of others on this period would encourage the release of Stalin-era films with English subtitles in high quality versions on a variety of accessible platforms. 

*Featured photo by Felix Mooneeram.

Maria Belodubrovskaya is Associate Professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago.

See all books by this author.

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