Dovzhenko/Manchevski : silence, speech, and the gaze

The term’s third set of CamCREES notes cover the 18 February seminar at which three researchers, including two PhD students, discussed the renowned filmmakers Oleksandr Dovzhenko and Milcho Manchevski.  Using the example of the recently published Dovzhenko diaries discussed at the session, the notes also look at open-access and closed-access classification in the University Library.

The third CamCREES session of the Lent term started with a talk by Dr Elena Tchougounova-Paulson about her work on the papers of the great Soviet-era director, producer, and screenwriter Oleksandr Dovzhenko (Aleksandr in Russian).  His archive is collection 2081 in RGALI, the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, where Dr Tchougounova-Paulson was a researcher.  Descriptions of the Dovzhenko collection, whose contents number over 2,500 items, can be read (in Russian) starting from the collection’s front page here on RGALI’s website.

Dovzhenko was born in Ukraine and produced films in both the Ukrainian and Russian languages.  One of the challenges of working with his papers, Dr Tchougounova-Paulson explained, was dealing with the language he wrote in – a rich and idiosyncratic mixture of Ukrainian and Russian.  This was a particular test for her since part of her task was to translate his diary entries into Russian!  Dr Tchougounova-Paulson’s work contributed to the 2013 publication of his diaries, a vast 877-page volume produced in Kharkiv.  More about this book further down.

The second half of the session saw two Cambridge PhD students, Tanya Zaharchenko of the Department of Slavonic Studies and its Memory At War programme, and Gruia Badescu of the Department of Architecture, talk about the 1994 film Before the rain by the Macedonian director Milcho Manchevski.  Gruia and Tanya were the first ever recipients of a CamCREES postgraduate interdisciplinary seed grant programme launched in Michaelmas 2013.  The grant allowed them to invite the director to Cambridge for a discussion of “film and the lines between truth and fiction, self and the other” (excerpt from the talk’s publicity).  This exciting session took place on 2 December 2013 in Robinson College, and was preceded by screenings of Before the rain and also Manchevski’s latest film, MothersBefore the rain (Pred dozdot in Macedonian) is set in Macedonia and London and is full of food for thought, from its visual impact as a result of careful use of colour to the director’s deliberate play with the sequence of events shown in the film.

One of the conditions of the grant was that the postgraduates then came to talk to CamCREES about what they did, and how it and the interdisciplinary teamwork involved had helped them in their own research.  In their update, Tanya and Gruia gave fascinating views of Before the rain, drawing on their own academic fields: Tanya talking about memory, and Gruia about place and space.  It was exciting to see how much the opportunity for them to work together and to discuss the film with its director had enriched their reading of the film.

I’ll end by returning to the Dovzhenko diaries (Dnevnikovye zapisi, 1939-1956).  The volume is in the University Library’s collections (catalogue record here).  As the record shows, it is in a closed classmark (C208.c.592) which means that it is borrowable but must be ordered through the main Reading Room.  So why isn’t it on the open shelf?

Assigning a classmark can be a tricky business in the University Library.  For cataloguers, the first decision in classification is whether to place a book on the open shelf or to put it in a closed classmark.  Several criteria are at play in this decision.  The book should be academic and not of too narrow an interest (both in terms of its subject matter and also in terms of its language; a book in Russian on a non-Slavic subject might well be worth its place in the Library but not warrant a place on the open shelf if most browsing readers in that section would not be able to read it).  There are also physical issues – paperbacks can’t be put into an open-shelf classmark unless they are bound by the Library’s Bindery; heavily illustrated books are also rarely made borrowable; and size and paper quality also play a role in the decision-making process.  Finally, the practical issues of the classification system itself and space in our near-full building also need to be taken into account.

The Dovzhenko diaries are academic (the entries are accompanied by extensive commentaries and bibliographical references) and they are not of too narrow an interest (Dovzhenko is a major figure, and those interested in his work are quite likely to have some knowledge of Ukrainian and/or Russian).  The volume is already bound.  So far, so good.  My decision to place the book in a closed classmark nevertheless was based on three things.  One of these was physical – its paper is slightly fragile, so removing it from the likelihood of greater handling (through open-shelf browsing) was important.  The other two issues are interconnected.  The classification system leaves rather a lot to be desired for the performing arts.  All books on cinema, regardless of the aspect, era, or country covered, go into one classmark (415:3), which detracts from the usefulness of the ability to browse that the open shelf brings.  Coupled with this is the fact that, despite our Collection Management team’s endless good efforts, space is of a particular concern on the floor (SF6) where this class is held.

The increasing use of closed-access classmarks for new material makes the need for reliable catalogue records greater than ever.  If a book can’t be found in the catalogue, we may as well not have it at all.

The CamCREES bibliographical notes aim to link Cambridge library resources with the fortnightly seminars hosted by CamCREES (the Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies) in the Michaelmas and Lent terms of each academic year.  Each set of notes starts by looking at the specifics of a seminar and then goes on to explore related research tips and library issues.  The CamCREES bibliographical notes were introduced in February 2011 on the University Library’s Slavonic webpages, where all earlier notes can be found.

 Mel Bach

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