One of the treats of the Bluegrass Independent Film Festival is how it affords the opportunity to catch up with our prodigal sons and daughters. Take Catherine Mattingly, a former Louisvillian, graduate of Centre College and U of L and current D.C. resident. She will screen her documentary “Khoristoria: The Story of the Yale Russian Chorus.”
Part PBS arts film, part history lesson, “Khoristoria” tells of one of Yale’s most interesting lost chapters. The Yale Russian Chorus was founded by Denis Mickiewicz, an ethnic Russian from Latvia who had fled the Soviet Union during World War II. As a musician and academic, he ended up working with the Yale Russian club — a group of strange Russophiles who spent their free time not binge drinking, but examining and debating Russian history and culture. At first, he would show them some of his favorite Russian folk songs. Before long, he was whipping them into a full-fledged and by all accounts top-flight choir. They recorded albums and traveled the world.
Like most members of the chorus, its leader, Mickiewicz, was devoutly anti-communist, but a lover of Eastern European culture. As Mattingly’s film illustrates, the Yale Russian Chorus was an attempt to find communion between the common citizens of each country. “They wanted to communicate
that there is something beyond the Soviet government,” she says.
Of course, this was in 1953, when Russian culture, even the pre-Soviet, non-communist music they performed, was seen as carrier of the communist contagion, in much the same way Islamic culture is viewed in the West today. In that atmosphere, there was something inherently political about learning Russian music. Mattingly told me the chorus was almost arrested when a dinner employee found their speaking in Russian suspicious and called the police.
[img_assist|nid=5428|title=“Tattered Angel”|desc=photo courtesy of Fred Anderson Lynda Carter stars as the mother of a kidnapped child in “Tattered Angel,” which was directed by two Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati natives, Will Benson and Duffy Hudson.|link=|align=right|width=200|height=112]They went more than once to the Soviet Union, where they would sometimes break into street-corner renditions of pre-Soviet songs, many of which were banned by the government. It’s an image Mattingly is awed by: “These Americans were singing in Russia to Russians who can’t
hear the music they’re singing.”
The film ends with a recent reunion of the Yale Russian Choir. Although now retired from academia, “Khoristoria” finds Mickiewicz still going strong. He whipped these lawyers and bankers, academics and artists into shape for another performance that’s filled with the Slavic virility and emotional weight that made them so well-respected decades ago.
Mattingly’s husband is one of the chorus members in the reunion, so she has been able to see the impact of the Yale Russian Chorus firsthand. She says that “for some of them, this was their defining experience, at least of college and for some of them their lives.”
“Khoristoria” is just one of several films that will be screened at the BIFF, which tends to emphasize independent and developing filmmakers.
“Commit,” by Mickey and Nicole Blaine, is a dark romantic comedy shot in three half-hour takes. A couple meets in a coffee bar for what seems like a blind date, but it turns out to be a suicide pact made over the Internet. Somehow, they fall for each other.
“Tattered Angel” is a murder mystery starring Lynda Carter (aka TV’s Wonder Woman). Directed by two Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati natives, Will Benson and Duffy Hudson, it tells the story of a man who returns to his small hometown where his sister was abducted and murdered. When Carter’s daughter disappears, he immediately becomes a suspect.
“Living Lightly” is a short documentary about a Canadian family that essentially lives with 16th century environmental philosophies; they live according to the demands of the seasons and consider scything as something like meditation.
And there’s “MIA: Soldier’s Homecoming,” a film about the long-delayed return of the human remains of a helicopter crew that was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. In 2004, the crash site was found and the soldiers were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
There are dozens of other movies at the festival. For the full schedule, go to www.bluegrassfilmfest.com/schedule.htm. Tickets are $10 for a Friday or Sunday day pass, $15 for Saturday or $25 for the whole shebang. Parties will be held at the Irish Rover in La Grange and the Waldeck Mansion.
The Bluegrass Independent Film Festival takes place at the Great Escape Oldham 8 Theaters, at 410 S. First St. in La Grange. For showtimes, call 222-8000.
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