Two open letters to support Naum Kleiman
Naum Kleiman, the most important curator of Russia’s film heritage is being supported worldwide since his undisclosed deposition from Moscow Cinema Museum.
Naum Kleiman is one of the most important personalities in the historical heritage of Russian cinema. As the director of the Moscow Film Museum since 1992, he has been responsible for the restoration and further distribution of films by major Soviet filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein and Boris Barnet. Naum Kleiman was fired by his position on July 1st since the Ministry of Culture didn’t extend his contract without further reasoning. After this event, one of the founders and one of the most important curators of cinema worldwide was replaced through an undisclosed procedure by Larisa Solonitsyna. On October 27th the whole scholarly staff of the Moscow Cinema Museum – curators, archivists and film programmers – decided to resign from their posts since it was impossible to work under the new direction of the Museum.
After these events a number of important film personalities around the world expressed their support to the staff of the Museum and to Naum Kleiman himself. BFI’s magazine Sight & Sound received the following open letter to the Russian Prime Minister about Russian film heritage from Mark Cousins, Tilda Swinton and Thierry Fremaux on Thursday 30 October.
To Prime-Minister of Russian Government,
Russian and Soviet films have been amongst the greatest artworks of the last century. We filmmakers and movie lovers around the world – in Europe, America, Asia and elsewhere – have been enriched by them. We watch the films by Sergei Eisenstein and many others and, in doing so, discover particular and unique ways in which this art form can be.
We, of course, cannot be custodians of this heritage, these treasures. We rely on the great Russian film historians to be keepers of the flame of these films, to help us understand why they are priceless.
Those of us who have met Naum Kleiman know that he is the first amongst these scholars. For decades now, he has protected and, brilliantly, presented, the achievements of Eisenstein, Boris Barnet and many other filmmakers. Kleiman and his team at the Moscow Cinema Museum have shown, for a generation now, judgement, generosity and scholarship which is world class, and from which every archive and cinematheque can learn.
We are, therefore, deeply concerned to hear that Kleiman and his staff have been dismissed from the role of keepers of the flame. We do not know all the political complexities of what has happened, but we would like to protest, in the strongest possible terms, against the ill-advised changes in the leadership of film policy in Russia.
Just like in 1968, when filmmakers as diverse as Orson Welles and Carl Theodor Dreyer, wrote to the French government, decrying the dismissal of Henri Langlois, we want to say: this Cinema Museum isn’t only yours, it’s ours too. And we trust Kleiman and his team. They have proved themselves and we can learn from them. Respect their knowledge and integrity, realise how wise you will be to cherish and rely upon it for the sake of the humane business of founding the culture of the future on the profound and incalculably precious roots of the past – and please reverse your decisions.
We call on other filmmakers around the world to endorse or sign this statement, in solidarity and cinephile friendship.
On Friday 31 October, Naum Kleiman and the professional staff of the Cinema Museum have also published an open letter which further explains their decisions and the reasons that lead them to resign.
An Open Letter to Our Colleagues
Film and Museum Professionals in Russia and Abroad
On 27 October 2014, the entire professional staff of the Moscow Cinema Museum – 22 employees, including all curators, archivists and film programmers – delivered to the Minister for Culture of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Medinsky, a letter informing him they resign their posts because of the impossibility of continuing their work under the new leadership of the Museum.
On 1 July 2014, the Ministry for Culture chose not to extend the contract of Naum Kleiman, one of the founders of the Moscow Cinema Museum and its director for over 25 years. Instead, a new director was appointed: Larisa Solonitsyna, editor in chief of the newspaper “SK News”, the official publication of the Association of Filmmakers of the Russian Federation.
Three months later, the entire scholarly staff of the Museum felt obliged to express their distrust to Larisa Solonitsyna, in a letter to the head of the Department for Cultural Heritage at the Ministry for Culture of the Russian Federation, Mikhail Bryzgalov, and to the Presidential Advisor, Vladimir Tolstoy, calling attention to the lack of competence of the new director and her authoritarian style of leadership that is putting in danger the work of the whole team.
Under the pretext of “making order”, Ms. Solonitsyna began to fire employees in opposition to her, offering them the alternative to “leave their employment for personal reasons.” But for the scholarly staff, representatives of three generations, this museum is not just a job – it is our vocation and life-work.
The work of the Museum is paralyzed, current matters are not being solved, partners are renouncing further cooperation.
After our letter of October 27 to the Minister for culture with the explanation of our collective dismissal, the director decided to fire people: among the first five fired employees was Naum Kleiman. The director’s measures of intimidating or persuading to recall our letters of resignation did not make us submit. On the evening of 27 October, the Ministry of Culture, through Interfax Agency, disseminated a text about alleged infractions in the Cinema Museum’s activity, including financial ones, but during the recent ministerial inspection, answers were already given to these unfounded accusations. Why then these matters are being broadcast in media? The purpose is obvious: to discredit the former director of the Museum and his staff.
For the third time in its history, the Cinema Museum is in danger of elimination.
Among numerous answers of solidarity to our appeal, we received an important proposal.
The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, planning to create a cinema department, like in Washington National Gallery of Art, Louvre Museum, Orsay Museum or Centre Pompidou, proposes to make Cinema Museum a part of its structure: a big developing museum association under its aegis, what gives our Museum a possibility to obtain its autonomous building with exhibitions and film programs. We summon our museum colleagues, researchers, filmmakers and film-lovers all over the world to support this initiative.
Please send your comments of support to our address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Moscow, 31 October 2014
Naum Kleiman and the professional staff of the Cinema Museum