Back to top

Woman with a Movie Camera

Woman with a Movie Camera
My Life as a Russian Filmmaker
Translated by Antonina W. Bouis; foreword by Robert Rosen

A fascinating autobiography that tells the intertwining stories of one of Russia’s best-known documentary filmmakers and the eventful half century of Russian history she has recorded

Series: Constructs Series

October 2006
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
Add to cart
288 pages | 6 x 9 | 64 b&w photos |

Marina Goldovskaya is one of Russia's best-known documentary filmmakers. The first woman in Russia (and possibly the world) to combine being a director, writer, cinematographer, and producer, Goldovskaya has made over thirty documentary films and more than one hundred programs for Russian, European, Japanese, and American television. Her work, which includes the award-winning films The House on Arbat Street, The Shattered Mirror, and Solovky Power, has garnered international acclaim and won virtually every prize given for documentary filmmaking.

In Woman with a Movie Camera, Goldovskaya turns her lens on her own life and work, telling an adventurous, occasionally harrowing story of growing up in the Stalinist era and subsequently documenting Russian society from the 1960s, through the Thaw and Perestroika, to post-Soviet Russia. She recalls her childhood in a Moscow apartment building that housed famous filmmakers, being one of only three women students at the State Film School, and working as an assistant cameraperson on the first film of Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia's most celebrated director. Reviewing her professional filmmaking career, which began in the 1960s, Goldovskaya reveals her passion for creating films that presented a truthful picture of Soviet life, as well as the challenges of working within (and sometimes subverting) the bureaucracies that controlled Russian film and television production and distribution. Along the way, she describes a host of notable figures in Russian film, theater, art, and politics, as well as the technological evolution of filmmaking from film to video to digital media.

A compelling portrait of a woman who broke gender and political barriers, as well as the eventful four decades of Russian history she has documented, Woman with a Movie Camera will be fascinating reading for a wide audience.

  • Foreword by Robert Rosen
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Father
  • Childhood
  • Our House
  • Bolshevo
  • Those Times
  • I Will Be a Camerawoman
  • Where to Next?
  • Lessons of Television
  • Teaching
  • The Weavers
  • My First Film Portrait
  • Professional Infatuations
  • Them
  • The Ordeal
  • Compromises
  • Sharp Angles
  • On the Threshold of Change
  • Arkhangelsk Muzhik
  • Oleg Efremov
  • Solovki Power
  • Life Is More Talented Than We Are
  • Perestroika: Another Life
  • A Taste of Freedom
  • Once More about Scripts
  • Earthquake
  • The House on Arbat Street
  • Life with a Camera
  • Technology and Creativity
  • The Prince
  • On Ethics
  • Life with a Camera (Continued)
  • Documentary Trip
  • Filmography of Marina Goldovskaya
  • Appendix: Notable Figures in Soviet Filmmaking and Other Arts

Marina Goldovskaya is Professor of Film, Television, and Digital Media at UCLA, where she heads the documentary film program. In 2005, the Russian Association for Nonfiction Film and Television awarded her the Laurel Prize for a lifetime contribution to the art of documenting Russian history.


Browse the book with Google Preview »

On September 11, I woke very early, thanks to jet lag. I had returned to Los Angeles from Moscow the night before. I sat down at my desk to jot a few notes, as usual.

I was in a marvelous mood. Over the summer in Russia I had seen all my friends, spent two weeks in Borovsk, near Kaluga, and had filmed a lot—and I liked what I had filmed. The film was taking shape.

Suddenly, my husband shouted from the bedroom, "Marina, come here! You wanted to hear the Orson Welles broadcast? I think they're playing it."

He had turned on the radio while he did his exercises. Something incredible was on the air.

I ran into the room and listened. No, it wasn't Welles... although the sense of horror was probably what people experienced in 1938, when America almost lost its collective mind, listening to the Mercury Theater's radio version of H. G. Welles's War of the Worlds, presented as live coverage of a Martian invasion.

I rushed to the television set. What I saw looked like a Hollywood action thriller. But it wasn't fiction. It was live reporting on CNN about what was actually happening—happening in New York, happening in Washington, D.C. I saw a plane hitting a tower of the World Trade Center; this was the second attack. I had been on that roof six months earlier, enjoying the view of the city, and I had been too lazy to bring my camera. I was so sure I'd have plenty of time to film from that vantage point. But I didn't.

I stuck a cassette in the VCR: it's instinctive for me to tape everything important—for work, for memory, for future films. Sometimes I don't even know why I do it. I just feel I must. It was clear that this was a historic moment.

American television is brilliant at reporting live, showing things from different points of view, in a detailed and multifaceted way, with very precise commentaries. I kept switching channels. The scenes were shocking: fire, destruction, people buried alive. And more and more new horrible details...

Before that day, I had felt a comparably powerful emotional response only to events in Russia. You have the deepest feelings for events in your own house. I was a guest in America, after all, albeit a guest for ten years. But now I experienced the pain as if it were my own.

I looked at my watch: it was 7 a.m. By 10, I was at the university. I felt I had to be there. Maybe I could help someone, do something, run an errand.

The semester hadn't started yet, and the classrooms were practically empty. I saw only a few of my co-workers, and they were all stunned. We had no idea what to do. We tried to find out where we could donate blood, thinking that it would be important and could help the survivors of the collapse of the 110-story towers. But it turned out that no one was accepting blood; we couldn't find a place to donate. The next day I made some calls, found the locations, drove there, and saw enormous lines at all the hospitals. People stood in line five or six hours to give blood. And it was clear by then that it probably would not be of any use. What a bizarre situation—a mix of nightmare and absurd reality.

A major change had occurred: everyone understood that we were living in a different world. It's a banal thing to say it now—the sentiment is repeated daily—but that feeling became part of me, and I will live with it to the end of my days.

Everything that happened afterward—the letters with anthrax, the constant stream of news on television (which you couldn't not watch: it both mesmerized and agitated), the monstrous terrorist hostage-taking of an entire theater in Moscow, the war in Iraq—made me feel over and over that I was a creature connected to my environment. Wherever I am, Russia or America, I feel that connection acutely, even morbidly.

Life had always been clear to me. I tried to do my work well and to do what I thought was right. I taught with pleasure and joy. I spent as much time as I could with students and friends. I made the films I wanted to make and didn't film the ones I didn't want to make. I knew what interested me and didn't take on a project until it was clear what I could, and wanted to, say in it. I lived at peace with myself, feeling no sense of duality that comes from doing one thing but thinking another, saying yet something else, and living yet another way. Whenever I deviated from the natural course of my life, I fell into a depression, my internal braking system kicking in: something is wrong, stop and think. However hard it was, I broke my way out of the situations that were wrong for me. Things seemed to be in their places, or at least clearly defined.

And now I felt total confusion. My value system, developed over the course of my life, was shot to hell. There was no more solid ground under my feet. So many people were frightened in those days, but I experienced something else. I must have used up all my reserves of fear in the previous fifteen years. I had spent them on the brink of a nervous breakdown, constantly trying to balance—perhaps not between life and death but certainly between catastrophe and survival.

Even in America, where everything seemed tranquil, settled, and stable, I couldn't rid myself of that feeling of anxiety.

Even though physically I had been spending more time in America, I still felt part of Russia, and everything that went on there was close to me. Russian newspapers arrive in Los Angeles once a week; I made the two-hour round-trip to Sunset Boulevard to pick up Moskovskie Novosti (Moscow News), Literaturnaya Gazeta (Literary Gazette), Komsomolskaya Pravda, and Izvestiya to keep me in reading for the week. Then I started getting Russian news on the Internet, and I spent every evening at my computer, living in virtual Russia in America.

But 9/11 made me feel American. A Russian American. Apparently, what unites you with your surroundings is shared grief. The catastrophe that befell America bound me to the country.

I had spent the last ten years living a marvelous life—or rather, two lives. One in America, where I had family and interesting work that I loved. The second in Russia, where I go like a visitor coming home, even though for only short stays: two to three months in the summer, a month in the winter, and sometimes I manage another two or three weeks in the spring.

Both lives are interesting in their own way, totally unalike. When I fly into Moscow, I'm nervous, as if hurrying to an important meeting. I try to see from the airplane what changes there have been or if everything is still the same. Stepping onto Russian soil is a very emotional experience for me. Everything binds me to Russia—my country, my friends, my memories, my childhood, my parents' graves. When I step onto my native soil, I feel as if I've never been away, as if America did not exist. That life goes into deep background, like a dream that might not be real at all. But transatlantic phone calls back to America put everything in place for me: the other life is also mine.

Friends usually ask how I'm managing in America and if I've adjusted to life here. Honestly, I don't feel much difference. There's enough work for me in America, and that's the main thing for me; wherever my work has meaning, I feel at home. I quickly switch gears, caught in the whirlwind of work, and it no longer matters what language I'm speaking or what scenery surrounds me.

My summer's trip to Russia had been very intense that year. I continued working on a film I began many years ago. It's not even a film but a chronicle of Russian life. People talk about themselves, their past and future, what they feel and what plans they're making. I shot some street scenes too, based on today and therefore unique. I filmed memorable events, plays that touched my heart, people I love and sometimes those I don't like—street rallies by supporters of radical right-wingers like Anpilov and Zhirinovsky and representatives of other strange parties. These are also signs of the times and must be preserved. I've been doing this for the last fifteen years. I collect scenes and people. I ponder how to use them in a future film with the working title Russian Chronicles: A Diary of Change. Film is most importantly a comprehension of what is happening around us. Every one of my films, at least for me, has been an attempt at such an understanding.

But after 9/11 everything changed. Maybe the film I was shooting with such hope and love over the summer was not needed? Maybe I should be making a completely different film now? I think I'll set aside all my footage for a while.

What happened to America is not only an American tragedy. It is a world tragedy. The cancerous growth had been latent for decades, and now it came, the horrible, paradoxical explosion. How much hatred had to collect in the hearts of the men who committed that terrible crime. America had lived as if on another planet for so many years, protected from the storms and misery of the rest of the world. And then came this shock. The last drop of evil broke through the dam, but how many drops had accumulated over the years!

I often think of the tragic experiences of Russia in the last fifteen years. They were the result and continuation of the long chain of crimes committed by the totalitarian state, and not only Stalinism.

I always considered myself lucky. People of my generation didn't experience what our parents did when they were young. We did not have to go through pogroms, revolutions, civil war, and the Stalin terror. We only learned of these things from our seniors. World War II also bypassed me; I was too little to remember much. Everything that tormented my parents' lives was but distant thunder to me. I did not have to fear a knock at the door at night, the way people did in the years of Yezhov's and Beria's secret police. I did not have to worry constantly over the fate of relatives, as everyone did in the years of the Civil War and World War II. Everything was comparatively calm. Sometimes things were upsetting, sometimes vile and disgusting, and occasionally intolerable, but nothing demanded a choice that would cost me my life.

Perestroika changed it all. Life became so complicated and so terrifying. It seemed that we were on the brink of civil war. Fortunately, we avoided that terrible path and survived without much bloodshed. But the mass of evil that had accumulated in our enormous country over a century did not leave without a trace. It was reflected in a loss of moral values and a crisis of liberal ideas, not to mention the decline of standards of living and other social woes.

A snowball rolling down a mountain will crush you if it is not stopped in time.

September 11 drew a line in my life. It was time to stop and take stock.

But I physically cannot tolerate not working. I fall into depression, losing interest in the entire world. What could be more interesting than talking with young people, you would think. I've been teaching for almost ten years at the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. I communicate with students almost every day, discovering new things, some I had never even thought about before. And it's even more interesting meeting young people in a new country, in a new life. But now I felt that I was losing interest even in that.

I had never intended to write memoirs. It's not my genre, and I thought, why would anyone else care whether I had lived or not? My business is making films. Documentaries. That is what I have been doing all my life and what I love more than anything else.

But now I felt the need to write this book. I wanted it to be not so much about me but about the events I had witnessed, what I had learned, and how I tried to explain in my films what I had seen. About the people I filmed. About what truly had become the most important thing in my life: documentary film.


Once in February 1992, for my film The Shattered Mirror, I shot an episode at a Moscow gas station, where there was a long line. Most people in Moscow probably do not remember the three- to four-hour wait for gas in those days. While waiting for my turn, I picked up the camera. A man looked out from his car and asked me what I was doing.


"What are you filming?"

"Well, how we live today."

"Then you should film this line for gas."

"I did."

"What for?"

"For history, really."

"For history? That's noble. I photograph my family for history; you film reality."

"Well, I'm a documentary maker. I have to do it."

"You're right. It's your duty."

I used that piece in my film. I often return to it in my mind. It is my duty to tell about what I see and feel. Not that what I see and what I feel is so important. I am but a small particle in a huge world, but that world is reflected in me. I filmed and continue to film everything that seems interesting, symptomatic, or important.

Now it is important for me to write this book. To lay out my life. To understand what was good, what was bad, what was joyful, and what was disgusting. To understand myself. To understand history. I experienced a lot of things in my life that today's generation missed. The Stalin years, the years of the Thaw. The years of the development and flowering of television documentaries.

When the period of change began, I had the fortune to participate. Then my life changed completely. At a mature age, at fifty, I changed my personal life and my country of residence. This stage was filled with discoveries. Country, people, culture—all different. I was fortunate; I had more than enough to experience and feel.

And I always had my camera with me.


It was in 1993. I was making The House on Arbat Street.

The picture was born this way: I was traveling around the United States, giving lectures, with my screenwriter friends Masha Zvereva and Leonid Gurevich. Masha and I shared a hotel room, and we stayed up late talking. One night we mentioned Nikolai Gubenko, the actor who had unexpectedly been named Russia's minister of culture.

"I visited him recently," Masha said. "I walked into his office, he rose from his desk, and I realized that his desk was right where my crib used to be. I was stunned. It was our old apartment. I recognized the view from the window—I used to see it as a child."

"Masha," I said, "That's a fantastic theme. Let's make a film."

We began discussing it.

"We had twelve neighbors in our communal flat," Masha recalled. "One was a Party official; another was an economist who was arrested during the Stalin purges. The third was my aunt, with whom I lived. She had been married to a KGB man at first, but divorced him later. There was Auntie Marusya, my nanny..."

She listed them all and told me all about them. Each one represented a stratum of Soviet society.

"So, we'll make the film?" I asked.

"We should... while they're still alive."

When we came back to Moscow, we wrote a proposal, and I started offering it around. Masha called a few of our future subjects and learned that some were still alive and we had to film them right away. So we did. But many had already died, some could no longer remember anything, and the letters that one of the residents kept in a shoe box under the couch had disappeared. Our concept began to change. Now we were making a film not about an apartment but about the whole building.

By then I had gotten financing from the French Canal+, and work was moving along. We had a lot of people for the film, and we chose the most interesting. And, as usually happens, we were finding extraordinary archival materials. The concept was growing, taking on flesh.

But besides a concrete story and characters, a film needs a message—what I want to say with my film. I knew what my film was about: the fate of the people who had lived in this building and, through them, what had happened to us and our country from the turn of the century when the house was built. That was clear. But why was I making the film now? How did it relate to the way we were living now? That question always nags me; there is never just a single, final answer. And I have to find the answer. Without it, the film will have no energy, no point, no meaning.


In order to learn the fate of some of the characters whose lives came to an end in the late 1930s, I went to the press center of the KGB. The doors were just opening a crack in those days, and it was possible to learn things from their documents.

The director of the press center rose to greet me when I came in—an elegant man of forty or so. He knew me from my film Solovki Power (1988) about the Stalinist Gulag, the network of prison camps. To tell the truth, I was a bit leery of going to the KGB, thinking that my picture could not have pleased the institution and that I would not be particularly welcome. But no. The director was incredibly polite and helpful. He said that he had helped people find files on their relatives.

"And I thought maybe I would be able to see my father's case," I said.

"Well, why not? Of course."

He wrote down my phone number and promised to call as soon as he located it. I wasn't expecting him to call, but a week later I came home and heard the following message on my machine: "Marina Evseyevna, I found your father's file. Come over whenever it's convenient for you. Just give me a call first."

I asked my son, Seryozha, "Do you want to go with me?"

"Of course."

It took me a couple of days to gather up the courage to call.

"Alexei Georgiyevich, I can come over."

"When is it convenient?"

"What's good for you?"

"Come tomorrow at five. I think two hours will be enough. I'm at the office until seven."

My son and I went to Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters, unable to overcome the anxiety this building creates in every Russian who lived during the Stalin era.

We approached the entrance, the door gave way reluctantly, and we squeezed inside. We were met by a military man, very polite (it's unbelievable how gracious everyone is in that place!). He asked whom we wanted to see.

I told him.

"Come in. He's expecting you."

We went up to the second floor. The director of the press center met us, shook our hands, and smiled.

"I am in a meeting—please forgive me," he said. "I'll take you to the conference room. You can sit there and read."

He picked up a thin file. The cover was stamped "Keep Forever" and bore the name "Goldovsky Evsei Mikhailovich." My stomach turned over.

We were taken to a large room, with a table near the door, a lamp glowing on it. We were brought two cups of coffee, good cookies, and fresh fruit. This kind of reception was the last thing I had expected.

With trembling hands, I opened the file. The first thing I saw was an envelope. I looked inside— Oh, God! Photographs of Father, front and profile. And his eyes—so remote. I burst into tears.

Then I started reading. He was arrested on March 13, 1938, and released on August 31 of the same year. He was thirty-five. I knew that he had returned without any teeth and with lifelong insomnia. He had not slept a single night in the five and a half months he was in the infamous cells of the Lubyanka prison, located in the very same building where I was now reading his file. At night they hauled him out for interrogation, the corridors were very noisy, and he could hear shouts and screams—impossible to fall asleep. And they didn't let people sleep during the day. The guards would bang on the door if they saw through the peephole that a prisoner was asleep.

I knew that his arrest had to do with the Shumyatsky case. Shumyatsky was the minister of cinema then. At the time of his arrest, Father was his technology deputy. Father had told me a few things. He told me that once he had been brought in for a personal confrontation with Shumyatsky. They were being set up to be charged as a terrorist group. Allegedly, Father's boss had been the leader, and he was one of the main organizers; several other people were being charged in the same case. It involved the construction of the movie theater in the Kremlin—the one that was later re-created in Konchalovsky's film Inner Circle (1991).

Father was only remotely associated with the theater's construction. Alexei Ivanovich Molchanov, an engineer who had worked with Dziga Vertov on the sound of his film Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbas (1930), was in charge. As a top manager, Father was supposed to sign off on the work, and as the head of the ministry of cinema's film technology department, he had to oversee the installation of the projection system. He visited the site a few times, and when the work was done, he signed the certificate.

The opening of the theater was planned for November 7, 1937. On November 6, during the rehearsal, a mercury lamp exploded. There was nothing special about that—things happen. The bulb was replaced, and the projection ran beautifully. Stalin watched films and was pleased, but suddenly Shumyatsky was arrested, and the secret police began building a case. Allegedly, agents for Japan (my father had never seen a Japanese person until the 1960s) had intended to poison all the members of the politburo with mercury vapor. Molchanov claimed that my father had brought him in on this assassination attempt and that Shumyatsky had recruited my father. Shumyatsky confirmed it all.

During five and half months of interrogation, Father denied every charge. I read the transcripts: "no," "never heard that before," "it can't be," "I know nothing," "I never discussed anything like this with Shumyatsky," "never gave Molchanov any orders," 'I don't believe it could have happened," "this is impossible." He never referred to anyone else and did not mention any names.

A curious sidelight: During the interrogation, the investigator kept trying to find out why my father, a recognized scientist occupying such high positions, was not a member of the Communist Party. The official was trying hard to find a reason.

"Do you think that if I were a Party member, things would be easier for me now?"

The investigator was taken aback but agreed, "I believe you're right."


The file was thin: a few transcripts of interrogations, a transcript of the personal confrontation with Shumyatsky. Father had told me about that:

"I was already seated in the investigator's office. The door opened, they brought Shumyatsky in, and the investigator said: 'You'd better confess. There's nothing you can do anyway.'

"I simply did not recognize Shumyatsky. He had always been such a robust, strong, confident man. And suddenly I saw him, broken, hunched, the light in his eyes gone. He didn't even look at me. They placed him opposite me in a chair. He was wearing very light, almost white pants, either pajama bottoms or long underwear, tied at the ankle, and shoes without laces. When he crossed his legs, I could see that his skin was absolutely white. And I understood. They were beating him through wet sheets: This way the bruises don't show. You can't mistake it for anything else."

Father told me that he thought that it was Shumyatsky's self-confidence that had destroyed him. He apparently had started making independent decisions, which was something the Boss (as people referred to Stalin) did not like. For the same reason, Stalin later got rid of Dukelsky, who had replaced Shumyatsky as minister of cinema. He then appointed Bolshakov, who suited him much better. Bolshakov would never dare express his own opinion before he learned Stalin's point of view. Old filmmakers used to recall his simple-minded expression: "I don't know yet what I think about this film."

Stalin, like Lenin, considered cinema the most important of all arts. He himself censored all the scripts and watched every film, documentaries included. The fate of each film was completely dependent on his judgment.

My father told me that back then, in the investigator's office, Shumyatsky looked extremely exhausted. Arms crossed, staring at the desk, looking at no one, he answered the questions.

"Do you know Goldovsky?"


"Did you recruit him?"


"Did you give him an assignment?"


He answered all the questions with "yes."

Father burst out, "Boris Zakharovich, what are you saying! There was never any such conversation. You never said that to me! I don't believe that you could have ever said that to anyone. What are you doing, Boris Zakharovich? Why are you accusing yourself?"

At these words, Shumyatsky suddenly looked at him, with the expression of a completely crazed man, and suddenly a glint of life crossed his face. Something wild came into his eyes, but he immediately lowered his gaze and continued replying, "Yes," "Yes," "Yes."

Father said no to everything he was asked.

At the end of their confrontation, Father signed the transcript, and they were taken away.

This took place sometime in late July—Father had lost track of the time. After that, he was left alone, not called in for interrogation. On August 31 at five in the morning, a soldier came into his cell.

"Goldovsky, take your things to the exit!"

Father was sure that this was the end. Either the hard-labor camps or something worse. He got up and started walking.

He was brought to the interrogator, who greeted him with these words: "Comrade Goldovsky, you are free!"

The interrogator made Father sign a promise not to reveal anything about prison life.He was given his things, and then Father realized that he was really free.

Father, of course, never knew the facts I learned from his file.

An hour after their confrontation, Shumyatsky had asked to give additional statements in which he denied everything he had said about Father. He said that Goldovsky had not been part of the conspiracy.

Shumyatsky's fate was not known for many years. Some said that he had committed suicide in prison; another version was that he had been shot. Now all doubts are cleared up. The published transcripts reveal that "a group of terrorists under the direct supervision of Shumyatsky had planned to assassinate members of the Politburo by shattering a projection lamp containing poisonous mercury vapor in the theater of the Kremlin." Shumyatsky was also accused of performing treacherous actions against the signing of the 1918 Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, working for Japanese and British intelligence, and participating in rightist Trotskyite organizations.


The accusations did not mention the most horrible offense: Shumyatsky had allegedly refused to join a toast in honor of Stalin at a New Year's reception at the Kremlin on the night of December 31, 1937.

Shumyatsky's sentence was pronounced on August 1, 1938, one month before Father's release: "Execution and confiscation of all property."

I was stunned by what I had read and couldn't function appropriately. I can't forgive myself for not having taken any notes nor asking for a copy of the file.

When I returned the material to the director of the press center, he smiled guiltily. I think he found such situations uncomfortable—he seemed to be a decent man.

I said, "Thank you. I am very grateful. But I have two requests. Could I get Father's photographs, and could I find out what happened to the other six men who were charged in this case?"

"All right. When I know, I'll call you."

About ten days later, he left a new message on my answering machine, and I called back.

"I have copies of the photographs," he said, "and you can pick them up. Excellent copies. And as for your second question, alas, all the people in your father's case were shot." In 1939, Stalin changed the leadership of the secret police. Beria, the new chief, arrested his predecessor, Yezhov, for abusing his power and sentencing innocent people. Yezhov was shot, as were many of his predecessors in that job, and as Beria eventually was as well. Incidentally, Beria became Yezhov's first deputy in 1938, nine days before my father was released. Maybe the two events were related in some way? Maybe Father's release was one of those actions by which a new boss was trying to demonstrate his powers to establish himself as the man in charge.

Yezhov's regime was at an end, but Beria turned out to be no better.

My father had been one of the very few who had the strength not to sign false accusations. I wondered what miracle had saved him. How did he manage to deny any guilt? He was a very gentle and sensitive man. Where did he find the resolve? The strength to resist? If he had wavered just a little bit, he would not have lived, nor would I, for I was born after his release.

Here are more glimpses into my father's story. I learned them from him and from his former students.

Father lived with his mother in a communal flat in Moscow on the Sofiiskaya Embankment, still a bachelor. In December 1937 he got a three-room apartment in a new house on Bolshaya Polyanka Street. He left the old residence and handed in his identity papers to the superintendent of the new building for registration. The night of March 12, the secret police came looking for him in the old place on the Sofiiskaya Embankment. They came for him, but he was not there. And they probably suspected that he was trying to hide or was out performing terrorist acts.

At nine the next morning, when Father was in his office in Gnezdnikovsky Lane, three men in civilian clothes entered, searched the office, and said, "Get dressed. You are coming with us." Father understood at once what it meant. No one was surprised by arrests in those days. As he was going down the stairs, one of his students ran up to him.

"Evsei Mikhailovich! Wait! Are you going to the Film School? Could you give me a lift?"

"I don't think we're going in the same direction today, thank God," Father said, not losing his sense of humor even under these circumstances.

When he returned from prison, Father found that the police had sealed two rooms in his apartment, leaving only one for Grandmother to live in. He took off the seals, went into his study, and discovered among all the papers the police had scattered during their search a little locked leather case close to his desk. "What's this?" he wondered.

It turned out that his aunt who lived in a communal flat in Podolsk, a little town twenty miles away from Moscow, had dropped off the case two days before his arrest, after asking his mother if she could leave it there.

"Sofia Alexandrovna, could you keep this case for a few days? One of my neighbors in the apartment is a real thief. I'm afraid she'll steal it."

"You can leave it, Marusya."

The case remained in the study. Why didn't anyone search it? How could the police miss it?

Father opened the case. It was full of gold jewelry and coins.

Aunt Marusya came from a wealthy family. Her husband, an engineer, had a very modest salary, and yet she never worked. Until her dying day, she lived by selling family jewelry she had inherited in prerevolutionary times.

"Good Lord, I clearly was born under a lucky star" was the only thing Father could say. "If they had opened that case, nothing would have saved me. You can't imagine more incriminating evidence."


After the meeting at the KGB I came home, parked the car, walked into the house, and stopped. I simply couldn't walk upstairs, even though it was only one flight. It was the same house on Polyanka, the very same apartment, to which Father had returned in 1938.

Father had told me that he had been released from Lubyanka around five thirty in the morning. It was summer, August. The trolleys weren't running yet, Moscow was empty, no one was in the streets, and he was wearing his black winter coat with a fur collar, the same one he had worn when he was taken away in March. He walked through the empty streets. He reached the building. It was six by then. All was still very quiet. Everyone was asleep. He didn't want to wake his mother. He walked into the entrance and stood there waiting. Somewhere upstairs a door slammed—someone was off to work. It was time. He walked up the stairs, rang the doorbell, and in less than a second heard his mother's voice.

"Senechka, is that you?"


Now I stood in the dark entry. It was an old building, long in need of repair, smelling of cats, and I felt that I could not walk. A door slammed somewhere, and I walked up the stairs—the elevator was broken. I put my key in the lock and suddenly understood what my new film would be about.

Nothing in life vanishes without consequence.

And nothing happens for nothing.

Our today is the sum of our yesterday, the day before yesterday, and the days before that.

There are no trifles in life. I always believed that. The slightest event, however insignificant, spawns another, possibly more important. Everything has a beginning and a continuation.

That is why I always try to avoid things that will later make me feel bitter or ashamed. What goes around comes around.

Two days later I met Anya Belova and decided that she would definitely be in my film. She had multiple sclerosis; she could barely walk and spoke slowly with a thin, trembling voice. But she told me what I had been looking for since we began work on The House on Arbat Street. She went over to the wall and pointed at the photograph of a beautiful woman, eighteen years old and full of life.

"I was so carefree then! I fluttered like a butterfly, thinking of nothing," she said. "And now I am immobile... Maybe I am this way now because I never thought about what could happen to me. Nothing passes without a trace. Everything in the world is interrelated. The present flows out of the past."

Those words expressed just what I wanted to say.

I knew that my film would be about that.



Available for Kindle
Available on Google Play
Available on Kobo
Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca
UPCC/Project Muse