Film director, producer, founder of the Artdocfest documentary film festival, and the man who instituted the “Laurel” prize, the top documentary prize in Russia, Ukrainian-born Vitaly Mansky, besides being a multifaceted personality, is also one of Russia’s most distinguished documentarists. His oeuvre, which numbers over thirty films, is marked by its uncompromising spirit and critical point of view. In it, Mansky chronicles political and social developments in Russia, occasionally going back to the years of the Soviet Union in order to reflect on his youth and Jewish origins, and to recount the events that left their mark on his generation. The central part in his documentaries is held by ordinary people and the difficulties of their everyday lives. Using realism and an ethnographic lyricism, Mansky tells their stories, thereby unfolding a rich anthropogeography that goes well beyond his country’s borders.

Private Chronicles. Monologue (1999), a fictional biography of the youth of his generation which left the country following the collapse of the USSR, revolves around a monologue originating in home movies and photographs. In Gagarin’s Pioneers (2005), an essay on Mansky’s Jewish roots, he travels to Israel, Ukraine, the USA and Canada in search of his old schoolmates who, though having sworn allegiance to the USSR as Young Pioneers, ended up leaving or, as in the case of the director’s family, changed their name and stayed in the country.

In Broadway. Black Sea (2002), Mansky captures the unusual daily life at a working class summer resort, a place where refugees from the Caucasus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, but also Russians converge. In Pipeline (2013), he follows the natural gas pipeline from Siberia to Western Europe and observes the inequalities in the countries he traverses, painting the portrait of modern-day Europe.

A special place in his filmography is held by the documentaries he made in Cuba and North Korea. In Motherland or Death (2011), he exposes the disparity between myth and reality, propaganda and social disintegration, and the disillusionment of those born before the Cuban revolution, in an existential narrative which involves different social groups. In Under the Sun (2015), a film completely controlled by the authorities of North Korea, Mansky makes it clear that the distortion of reality is part and parcel of life there. The camera keeps rolling beyond the official filming schedule, capturing the feelings of the female protagonist and her classmates, and deconstructing what the regime claims is the “ideal life” of the citizens of that country.

In the intensely personal Close Relations (2016), the director journeys across Ukraine in order to discover, through his extended family, the impact of the civil war on Ukrainian society and to explore the fragile notion of national identity.

Through this indicative selection from Mansky’s rich and award-winning oeuvre, the TDF introduces a great documentarian, who artistically renewed the genre in his homeland and, at the same time, through his activism, has crucially supported the production of independent documentaries.

Dimitris Kerkinos
​Head of Programming

1.  Broadway. Black Sea / Vitaly Mansky, Germany-Russia-Czech Republic
2.  Close Relations / Vitaly Mansky, Latvia-Germany-Estonia-Ukraine
3.  Gagarins Pioneers / Vitaly Mansky, Germany-Russia
4.  Motherland or Death / Vitaly Mansky, Russia
5.  Pipeline / Vitaly Mansky, Russia-Czech Republic-Germany
6.  Private Chronicles. Monologue / Vitaly Mansky, Russia
7.  Under the Sun / Vitaly Mansky, Russia-Latvia-Germany-Czech Republic-North Korea