Andrei Smirnov is a filmmaker. I interviewed him with Julia at the main institute for films in Moscow. (I don’t know the official title of the organization. The Filmmakers’ Union?)
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I spent practically 30 years of my work being an underground person. The majority of my attempts to make a movie were stopped by censorship and even those that were distributed were touched by the censorship. I made six movies that stayed on the shelf — the first one for 21 years, the second for 16 years. So I was out of the establishment and normal communication. And finally after my last film 13 years ago I left directing, I tried to change my profession to writing scripts, but I wasn’t very successful in my new profession. I wrote a dozen scripts but only two of them were put out. I wrote two plays and finally one of them was produced. It was the cow which nourished my family for ten years. Then there were several years when I worked here in this office, the Filmmakers’ Union. Of course I was obliged to be active and to be in the centre of all the social movements and I was well-informed about what kind of things were going on at this time, but two years ago I left it and I came back to my underground and now I’m here so I’m very … informed and things I can tell you are completely subjective and personal…
METTA Personal is fine. I have an interest in what it was like trying to be an artist in this society and what the struggle was like and when you got stopped, what stopped you and who were your friends and was anybody able to help you. Were you consciously political in what you were doing and were most of your friends attempting consciously to change political views or were you simply…why were you considered dangerous? What was there about your work that was threatening even when you were not necessarily making political films. There were obviously a number of people who whose cravings (?40), whose music had to be stopped. And that is of interest to me. Why it had to be stopped, what sort of things were stopped, who did it and what the struggle was like to create and to maintain some sort of artistic integrity, and how you organized your work collectively in a building like this to support each other.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: You see even to answer to this complicated or, rather, wide question I think I need days and days…so I would prefer it if you would ask me concrete questions.
METTA First, lets just start with your own career, what kinds of work you did, historically, like a C.V., and then having done that, what were the obstacles…you say your films got cut or put on the shelf…I’d like to know why and by whom. Lets do that much and then I’ll come back at you.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Well, it is very typical. ..(inaud.)…I entered the initial film school just after finishing my school studies and so I was quite young when I got the diploma as a film-maker, I was about 20 years and I made a short film with one of my colleagues. We worked…for several years on one fiction film and two shorts. Then the first long fiction film I trieds to do was produced, and I was very hopeful. At that time I may have been the youngest director in the world. Then the first long action film we tried to do was an adaption for screen of a novel which was very well known, very much in the style of the Soviet Union, a novel ‘A Handful of Earth’ by Gregory Baklanov. He was one of the participants of the war and at this time, at the beginning of the sixties, this group of young and talented Russian writers were trying to change the point of view on the war. They had been themselves soldiers at the front, whose visions were quite different from the official point of view, which were expressed in the traditional Russian films and novels. This novel, though strongly criticized by the official critics, was very popular and successful with the public. So my colleague and I felt sure we would find a way to make this movie, but this movie failed completely and the film that we produced was quite [different from what we had intended] for two reasons. The first was purely subjective. I personally didn’t understand that it was the kind of job that demanded that we pass exams every year. You have to start from the beginning as if you had never shot a frame. But the other reason was rather objective, the hard control which was kept on all the period of making films, its very difficult to explain this system to a Western person because economically the Soviet system was not just silly but completely mad, because for one person who tried and still tries to produce something, there are hundreds of people who are paid by the taxpayer, by the state, whose job consisted only of controlling this producer. So the thousands of people who still worked on the Moscow films, for example, now when our conditions are quite different, but they don’t produce themselves anything. They only [hinder?] those who do. and so inspite of the fact that the novel was published and re-published several times, the script was very tightly controlled and had lost several important scenes before the start of the shooting. It is also very difficult to explain why it was done, because in general, one scene or another becomes the price of being allowed to make the film.
MS: You know when you start that the price is that you are going to have to give up about one scene?
Smirnov: Yeah. And once we started to find a compromise, you keep losing. You have to be very attentive, very strong, very hard pursuing your aim to do it. We had little experienced at the time, so we lost. The shooting at the time encountered all kinds of obstacles. There were military officials present at the shooting and they were controlling every step. But, I think there is a third reason that I mentioned, the subjective one, was more important than the second, and I will try to explain why a little later. So finally this film was accepted for distribution. It never had much success. While in this film there is nothing to be ashamed of, it was also nothing to be proud of. But it was a great experience for me; I was 23 and I think it was just this film that made me really a director.
METTA In what way was it a deviant film? You said that the story took a different view of the war. How so?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Now it is impossible really to explain, because there was even a special term of the critics: “the truth of trenches” because the general way of our art was the war theme from the point of view of the staff. So the critics they discussed about two truths of the war and both were used in a pejorative sense: those who wanted to show really the human aspect of the tragedy of the war…they said that the other ones, they are speaking about the “staff truth.” The official critics reproached their counterparts that they tried to paint only the trench truth. So it was one of the novels of the trench truth, it was very human and until now one of the best novels about the second world war. But any kind of violence, of roughness, of real unhappiness was almost sentenced to be cut, to be out. The most important, the photographic part of this scene — evidently if you shoot the war the you are obliged to show its cruelty, the blood, and the people who are unhappy, the people who perish, their wounds and their death, the unhappiness of those who are linked to them. All these things had to be treated in a very easy and prudent way.
METTA Why did they do that? Why did they want you to be ‘prudent’? Why would anybody, any political figure…I’ve been told that everything has to be pleasant, that all art has to be upbeat and happy, but I don’t understand, is it that they are trying to tell people that they should not be afraid to go to war or what is the idea?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: It is very simple to explain. Twenty years ago, I talked to my American friend. He said that we study in the American school two things very hard: the constitution of the U.S.A. and basketball. He said that you are so naive about this world, I think you study only the history of communism, but it would be very useful. And I think that I was right because I was sure that — of course this links to your first question — I’m sure that the peace movement had an influence on the Soviet government and Gorbachov, but only one thing had any real influence…it was the strong position of the Reagan administration, which led this system to its economical crash. It was the only way to do it, because the only way of discussing it the communists understand is a hard strike with something very heavy and strong. So the people, the team of Reagan, like Haig and others, who came to power from the first speech of Gen. Haig in the equality of the State Secretary I was happy reading this number of Newsweek or Time because for the first time I have seen the guys who wrote the speech for him, they know very well what is communism and what is this system. I think that they have studied very well what it is and thanks to them that now our life starts remind of the life of the people and not of the ——— (robitaille?) so its very easy to explain.
In Russian it’s redacteur. In English it’s editor, but in the cinema it is not the editor who cuts the film, it is the editor like in the publishing house, it is a controller, it’s really a censor. We had until all kinds of editors in this sense, in the studio itself, in all kinds of offices, who tried to be like producing something, but which never produced anything, except their own wages. So all these people, all the system, when they are shown a frame showing really the evil of war, the blood, the wounds, they always say, “It shocks the spectator.”
well, I want to shock the spectator. “Aesthetically it is wrong, you have not to do it.”
“But in the war there were wounds and blood!”
“But you show it in such a way that someone who didn’t know the final result of the war would think that we hadn’t won, but that we’d lost this war, because too much blood, too much suffering in your film.”
Of course it was completely a lie, but it was used at every step. It is the surface of the problem, its the form in which they tried to express their feeling of disgust, which was really sincere because this special breed of people which was especially brought up by this system. So the choice was very consistent. But behind this is a very simple, which consists in never allowing one problem even to touch the human price of anything, so it don’t matter really what time do you treat and what period of the communist power, is it revolution, is it the civil war, is it the collectivization, is it war or after war? If you even touched this side of the problem — the price paid by the people, the human price of any effort of this state, of this system, it was never allowed…because, and they were right, because all so-called successes of this machine was paid of millions and millions of lives. So with the war it was the same. Germany, which lost the war so-called, was 7,000,000 of Germans and the Soviets I’m sure it is at least 35,000,000. That’s s why it doesn’t matter what you touch; the important thing, was the way in which you touch it.
METTA At what point did that get to be the rule? What comes to mind is some of the great Russian war films which produced some of the most vivid images of human suffering, e.g., the Eisenstein film, those are examples of the most vivid shots ever made of the horrors of war.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I’m sorry, it was made in ‘27 and at this time the control was quite young, they were not really experienced to do it.
METTA At what point did they get really experienced? And get good at controlling it?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I think that even for the film of Eisenstein it was an exclusion. Don’t forget, in spite of faults, it was a big country. When they say it’s great, I don’t know why. It’s great only by the quantities of suffering, but its a very tormented nation. So it is impossible to control really the mentally of people. There are some holes in the system and we had some good films in all periods of our cinimatography in spite of all kinds of control. They were never numerous but they were always presented. There were always exclusions.
I’m sure every good film which appeared here was always the consequence of faults or of conscious will of some of controllers who tried to break through, who tried to get through. I’m sure, and a director here, I hadn’t known it at this time when I did my first movie, but principally we are all professional liars. All. And any dignified film was always a consequence of a lie, but a very professional and consistent lie. Because finally we got used to lying with every step. We wrote one thing and we changed it in the way which was demanded, then we shot another thing, then we edited the third one, we put another sound on it — but there was always the moment which it was impossible to escape, the moment when it was ready and you have to present it for acceptance. And very often it was a great crash, but anyway., at every period they were changing their system in a more and more hard way. And finally, 20 years ago or more, the minister or president of the committee for cinemas, he published a special order which didn’t allow directors to present really a film which really ready. Because the sound and the image are on different films and only at the final moment there is the mixing where you put all the sound on only one film and only after that both are united in one print.
So, before, we at least had a moment when the first print was ready and there were about two days before you had to present it to the committee. In this time, you had the opportunity to invite several of your friends in to see the film that you really made. Then the struggle began. But of course a lot of us used to (after the scandal began) to hide, to steal this only print and to conserve it. Mikhail Galich was the first director to leave the SU to Israel; the police worked hard to put him into jail. They learned that he had a print of his film and they come to his apartment, found it, and he was accused and warned to be prosecuted for the theft of the print of his own film. But some of are fantastic, for example, Mark Asipien, one of his films, he was a director did a very good film about 25 years ago, about the young working class guy which was the most violent and the most…do you remember the very famous English movie Saturday Evening and Sunday Morning based on the novel of Alan Sillitoe, it was a kind of this made here. Well anyway, so his, another film of Mark Asipien was on shelf for 21 years — just the same time as one of my films — but when the perestroika opened the shelf and it was possible to release these films, Mark Asipien had all these scenes that had been cut from his film, he had them in his garage for 21 years and he succeeded to restore all that had been cut out. It was useless because the film, of course, was too old and he didn’t really succeed with it. But it is a herioc example of course, and 25 years ago the new minister published a special order forbidding to present the film for approval in a print, but only in its working state on two films, which meant that you never had the print before the approval.
We had found the authentic version of Andrei Rublev by Tarkovsky only thanks to the fact that it was made a year before this edict. So the only print which is longer than the version which was shown in the West and here, which is an hour and a quarter longer, it is a great space of time, how different are the rhythms in the version of the film which was shown in the.. It is an hour and a quarter which was cut out, but now we have this version and it was shown everywhere, but it was only thanks to the fact it was possible to have a print.
METTA Do all of his films exist in the authentic version?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: No, the Mirror was so strongly cut and spoiled. The Mirror was a really great film, the second film of all his creation. It is still a great film, but it was spoiled very much. And all the others. It was impossible to conserve a brilliant scene from Solaris. They all perished.
METTA You said you were underground for many years, tell me about that.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: It is rather psychological, because I tried at the time — you see it is the only profession in all kinds of art which doesn’t permit you to be really underground or to make an amateur’s film. When you are a professional it is impossible to come back to the amateur’s film. So the director needs a lot of money to carry out a film. so when I used this term underground I mean I felt quite out of the system, of this life. I tried all kinds of ways of earning money. I made a short film which was at first cut and then on the shelf for 21 years. I was paid 21 years afterwards. So it was 10 broken of my destiny but it was a big change. But at this time I had no illusions. I understood very well what I do and the final of this film was watching. In spite of the fact that all the time I hope that I succeed to get through and made some efforts to carry out, but finally it was shot and I was promised by the vice-minister that we will help you to change your profession. We will help you to change your profession. After that, within 3 years I couldn’t earn a ruble directing.
METTA So what did you do instead?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I wrote something for radio, I began a movie for TV but it was also stopped — thanks to a phonecall I don’t where from — and then I wrote a script. I was unemployed. I think it is the same in American publishing house — critics who tried to evaluate the manuscripts of non-professionals. There were a lot of non-professionals who wrote their novels and sent them to publishing houses and there was always a special person to read it and to write the rejections.
METTA And that was your job?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Yes.
METTA And the things that you tried to do during that time…well I guess there is no point in talking about what you would have done…do you know who stopped you at each stage?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I was never interested. It was the system. It was one or another one. You see, my great problems with the first film of which I talked to you was that I was brought up by this system, I was a young communist, I was one of the believers, so, trying to do my best, I was sure at the beginning to do the best for the system, for the victory of the communism one day, to make all the people happy, but I was 20 or 21. But when I was 25 I knew everything about this system, and I was ready to take a machine gun to go anywhere to struggle against it, so when in ‘68 my father, who was at the front, who was much more experienced than me, was communist but who also was disillusioned at this time, we were both reading the newspapers which were telling of what was happening in Prague in spring of ‘68. I was sure that the tanks will come here and he cried to me ‘you are an idiot, you don’t understand! It is not Hungary, it is not ‘66, they’ll never do it!’ I couldn’t understand, speaking to him I loved him very much and I respected him, but… (end of side 1)
METTA Truly, are you saying that there were lots of people who felt that way, who were really ready to take up arms?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: No, there were professional dissidents, people who suffered a lot, who didn’t take machine guns, but who really protested against the invasion of Czeckoslovakia, who went to jail, who were publishing underground newspapers, who really organized a system of underground information. There are great persons among them. We know only several, like Sakharov and some others. They were much more numerous, several generations of these dissidents, well, it was anyway hundreds of them. They passed their lives in Soviet jails. I’m not a professional dissident, I never wanted to be a revolutionary guy, I am an artist, so I speak about my feelings. At 25, 26 I felt so unhappy. I didn’t succeed to find a niche to survive, not only to earn my money to nourish my family in a proper way without compromising…no the word is not ‘compromising’ because all of us who survived anyway, the only way was to compromise…the question was of the measure of the compromise. To be really, I don’t say rich, but to live well at the certain level you needed to find a way to compromise a little bit more than others. So we are all the compromiser professional, but it depends on the measure. There were some people who tried to stay honest — of course in certain limits — but anyway I never was a communist in the party, etc,etc, I never agreed to take part in the official line.
METTA Did you have a lot of friendships with people who were dissidents or people who…
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I knew some of them, that’s all.
METTA To you is the word ‘dissident’ a negative or positive word, or does it have anything on it?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I think in the SU it is completely objective, but for me of course I have a great respect for these people. They are the only ones who knew very well what a destiny they will have, but who protested.
METTA I think that is shared by most of the people I know. We were just having a conversation about this a little while ago because I used the word dissident today in a conversation with somebody whose father ( it was Sergei Kapitza) I would have called a dissident…and he seemed to…
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Kapitza was dissident? He was never dissident… He tried to help some people. He was a man of the establishment.
METTA All right.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: He was part of the establishment, how could he…he tried to help some good people…he was a man of the establishment, it was impossible. Now there is a lot of new heroes…
METTA No, no, this is the opposite. I’m familiar with all those new heroes who claimed that they were really in opposition all along, but in this case what I encountered was a reaction of, he didn’t like that word and I used it to apply to his family and to my mind I may have dignified it too much by using that word if he wasn’t entitled to it but it is an honourable word to me and he seemed to not like that word, and I’ve encountered two other people who also would not ever to be called a dissident. It was clear that this was still a negative thing.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Well, its very natural for people like Kapitza’s family and Sergei Kapitza himself, to try not to do dishonest things but at the same time to try to stay on the surface of life. So, I’m rather like Kapitza, but I never was a dissident and never tried to do it. But anyway, when you try to carry out a script, when you try to make a movie, you are obliged to push it and you hope to distribute it, so you are all the time contacting the system. So anyway, a kind of compromise you had to accept.
METTA What were some of the other compromises you had to accept? I mean, you talk of having had to take out some of the most unhappy or disgusting scenes so as to tone it down. Were there other kinds of compromises you had to accept? Was this the general explanation for all of the ways in which they tried to cut your films or were there other ways?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Well, I told you the story of my first film, then I did a second short one, then I separated from my colleague with whom we worked together, and then at last after troubles I succeeded to carry out my own project and I made a film which was called [“Angel”?] this was the film about the civil war and this film was made completely consciously. This film on the shelf for 21 years and after this film I really lost any kind of work any kind of job in the cinema.
METTA Is that when you were told that they would help you find a new profession?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Yes. It was in ‘67. I was 26 and I had no more illusions about this regime. But there was the moment when this film could be distributed, could be approved. I was asked to cut this and this. I cut one thing, I cut another, but finally it was on the shelf. So when 21 years after it was released from the shelf and I couldn’t find the negative. It was destroyed; I could never find those scenes which were cut and fortunately I found a print of this film and so we did a double negative from it.
METTA I am not sure I am understanding you. You made the film and you cut it enough so that it passed and it was allowed to be shown but 21 years later you wanted to get the pieces and put them back in? Or, was it not shown?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Twenty years afterwards it was shown but without the things that I cut…
METTA O.K., so it wasn’t shown during that whole period.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Twenty-one years. After this I had another film, the only one. Three years I was really unemployed as I told you, then I made another film, the only one which had been a official and commercial success. Its title is ‘Belorussian Station’ , it’s about 53,000,000 spectators in one year. This film was also changed and also suffered a lot before it was allowed to be shown, but finally it got very flattering press…I was told that it was shown to Brezhnev or someone else. It was shown in so many countries, but without its director, who was not allowed to go…
METTA Really! Why? I guess they thought you’d stay, is that it?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: You see, the change in my life was too great. At this moment I had already the psychology of an underground man completely, so during this film — it was a film about a group of war veterans who are gathering on the funerals of their comrades. And they try to pass together (the day?) to recover the common language that they had lost. They hadn’t met for 20 years but from the end of the war. Its a film like, I hope you know the famous film of William Wyler, ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’. It’s this kind, but put on the Russian soil. But was very important that my personage was unhappy. They realized that the happiest day of their lives stayed the victory day, in spite of one of them is a tinker, another one is a successful businessman, etc. While I had been doing it, all the time I had to lie, to lie, to hide something to put some things — and all the time I was afraid for its destiny. But finally, it has lost also something, two scenes that were very good, I think. But finally there was the main thing that I wanted to say in this film, they were expressed and the film was allowed and got its spectators. But the change was very unexpected for me and very quick. Before the film was distributed there were articles in the official press and I was afraid even for the spectators because, our spectators had a very constant psychology. If the film is officially said to be good, it’s shit. So the publicity for a film at this time was the hard critics in the newspaper. But I started to be invited to all kinds of receptions to present my film in front of delegates of the Party Congress, etc, etc. I was really frightened by it. Frightened by the opportunity of coming into or entering this system, of cutting it. Finally, I pronounced a speech at a meeting of Party Congress delegates…
METTA When was that? What year?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: It was the beginning of ‘71. The 24th or 25th Congress of the Party. It was a great honor to be presented to them. There were all those Marxists that I despised. It was disgusting for me and I tried to offend them.
METTA You tried to offend them?!
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Yes, and I succeeded. There was a person who presented me to the audience and said, ‘dear delegates you are very tired after a full working day in the Kremlin but we try to distract you a little, so you’ll see a film which is just dedicated and which was finished just for the opening of the Party Congress’. I was offended with this enormously, because three years I put into making it and with great trouble and for me it was really an insult. And I told it to the audience. I said that I’m insulted at this presentation. It’s not something made especially to distract you, it doesn’t interest me at all, you may leave this place if you want. I put in a lot of effort and a lot of work, and for you it is one hour and a half of maybe distraction and for me it’s three years of work and blood and all kinds of trouble for me and my family. But I don’t object to the fact that your congress has begun just at the moment when I have finished my film. At this time it was a great scandal. The head of the Filmmakers’ Union was pale…so it was a great scandal…
METTA But nothing happened?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Well, I was called and questioned by the director of the studio and in Kiev by the Secretary of the Filmmakers Union, but I did’s answer. I said I had been drunk.
METTA (enjoying plenty of good laughs at this point)
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I never took the game seriously. Because I was questioned, i understood that the person who was presented in the room of the Secretary was the KGB agent and I said I don’t want to speak about it, I was drunk, I don’t remember. And there was another thing…
METTA I’ve often actually had a theory that one of the reasons people drink so much here is because it makes a good excuse.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: They know very well, they knew it always that those who drink never touch even being drunk this kind of purpose. Those who are speaking about the system are never doing it being drunk. They knew it very well, they understood very well that it’s a lie. I didn’t make the effort to make them believe. In another one the film was shown to the Supreme Party School, the special school for the high ranked Party posts. They asked me questions which were also insulting. They asked me ‘are you communist, are you a member of the Party?’ I said that I think it is not a well-mannered person who asks such questions and said that I never had been had been in your party and never wanted it.
METTA How did you get to do such things?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: It was not so dangerous as we think now. And there was a kind of silence that I never forget. I saw that these people felt not even ill at ease, but like being presented in a space where they had never to be presented — a kind of feeling themselves as so uncomfortable. It’s something outstanding, it’s not normal, etc. Wonderful silence. But I understood that I went just a little too far. I said, “I can explain to you why I never wanted to enter the Party, because my convictions are quite honest and I don’t divide the philosophy of Marxism. I was 30 at this time and I had the honour to divide the great thinkers and philosophers who are all grouped on the Marxist slang as anarco-individuals and really the slang of Marxism philosophical words anarco-individualism it’s s everything from Augustine to ——. So any philosopher who … into the centre of the problem, the personality, since for them they prefer them to study Marxism, not the individuality. So I said this sentence and left the meeting.
METTA And you said that you belonged to that philosophical persuasion of anarcho-individualism.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Yes. I said this dissertation on the Marxist slang it calls anarcho-individual. Its very funny because 10 years afterward I met a guy who was in this audience, who was the first secretary of one of the big Russian districts, and he told me that after the film and after the film and after this meeting, they were sitting and drinking in their foyer and discussing had I asked any approval before to say it…(laughter)
METTA But you didn’t get in trouble?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Oh, I had some, but you see at this time instinctively I didn’t believe that I would have great trouble, but I understood very well that it was the price that I would pay….I wouldn’t be allowed to go anywhere, to have a foreign passport. And I didn’t get it. And my colleagues from the film were very angry with me because the film had a good chance to have the national prize. It lost it after that. I was also questioned after this meeting because — I was quite unhappy because the scandal about this meeting at the Party school, it began a month or two months after, and I couldn’t understand why. There was in the audience a delegation of the Czechoslovakian Party. I wasn’t informed about it. You can imagine what kind of Czechoslovakian .communist were in this delegation of officials at this time — 1971. The next day they had a reception and the meeting with Ponomaryov, who was the Secretary of the Central Committee, who was the chief of things linked with the support of foreign communist parties, etc., and they told him this story and expressed indignation. The next day I was called and I had to go to the vice-minister…
METTA That was after a month later?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Yes.
METTA So why did they only then express indignation.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I didn’t ask. But at this moment it was also a kind of game. I said, what does disturb you? I was called here to the president of the Filmmakers Union to answer questions by the Director of the studio: ‘What have you said? You understand it is a political provocation.”
“I was never informed that I was speaking to the Czechoslovak delegation. Speaking to the high-ranked party professionals, they are the ideological professionals. I am also a professional in my job, I was sure I could speak frankly.”
‘But you said that you never belonged and never wanted to belong to the party.’ I said “That’s true. Why do I have to lie?” I was preparing a new script, being sure that I would be allowed to do it after the success of my last film. And I succeeded. I did the film. It was a simple love story. Besides love there was also a party meeting in a steel factory or a kolkhoz or something. It was a film where the only pretension of this film to be new was consisted in ….
End of side two
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I was sure that the old regime would crash, but I never that I would survive until the moment to see the crash.
METTA Why didn’t this happen?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Because Gorbachov had diminished the repression.
METTA Where did he get the idea to do it? What made him the kind of guy he is, if its just Gorbachov…or maybe its not just Gorbachov, maybe it is 50 people, maybe it is 1,000 people…but why did it happen? You said, if I am not mistaken, that they were not responding to public opinion…they didn’t have to do it….it could have gone on another 50 years…but they did it. why did they do it? What got into their heads? Where did they get their ideas?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I think that there was really only one person responsible, Gorbachov. I’m sure. But there were a lot of circumstance and pushing in this direction. Because, why was Gorbachov elected? Its very strange. There was only 15 persons who really take the decision which was crucial for all the country — the members of the Politburo. But they felt this shame of this rule of very old persons, who one after another is dying sitting on the throne. I can’t say that they took into consideration the public opinion. No. No. But a feeling, not even of shame, but of being uncomfortable. Of course they had this feeling, and add to it the economical situation, it was very hard, even in this period. The regime lived only selling the oil.
METTA What difference did it make to the economy, whether you were allowed to show your films or not? If you vote for Gorbachov are you voting for — I mean if you are on the Politburo — why are you also voting not just for Gorbachov but for getting rid of nuclear missiles and for taking your films off the shelf?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Nobody thought that it would be a person who got rid of the missiles and released the films. If they had this idea, I’m sure they would have put another person forward, not Gorbachov.
METTA Your giving the whole credit to Gorbachov? You think there is nobody else who could have really made any difference?
G. I’m sure. I’m sure. This regime couldn’t produce. Its a miracle that the man who passed all the staircase of the party can fill the destiny, to do what he had done. Its a miracle! Its a great occasion. Its God who really protected. Because any chance for this in reality was never been and even now there aren’t chances for it. But he had done it! So any one could do something, who despite the regime, who felt uncomfortable — there is a lot of people who felt this way, who had no illusions about it. Thousands and thousands of people who never would take part in any thing …who wanted only one thing thing…to earn some money and to hide themselves in a country house or in their flat not to see this reality. Millions of these people, but any one of them who felt a little smell only of…of freedom, like only of the press, begins to be a little more easy. Not so heavy. At the moment, it began to crack, to push, to break…its very natural. But you needed this man who changed the pressure.
METTA O.K. there are people who will say…No, he didn’t do it on purpose, he was forced to do it. There were so many pressures on him that he had to do it.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: Don’t believe it. All the Party was against. No one of them, millions and millions of people who are really privileged, were and are, they will struggle until the end for never do it. When you count it…I think it is something about 50 million people, if you count the party, the KGB, the army, the red communists, the syndicates, all kinds of Soviets, the local powers and a great army of their servants…it means the release from the privileged shops, which distributes their goods. The drivers, all kinds of guards and secret agents, etc. The power of a communist leader was and stays much stronger than the power of Gorbachov or Boris Yeltsin, because in Kazakhstan, or Oreal, it is impossible to find any power to push it out. They did and do all they want.
METTA Yes, it is not very optimistic in that sense. What is your vision of where things are headed?
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I’m a very bad prophet. I hope that one day this country will go in the normal way, I hope my children will have the chance…
METTA You’ve been wonderful, thank you very much.