Hot Docs ’11: Our Newspaper

Posted: May 4, 2011 in Film Reviews, Hot Docs
Tags: , , , ,

A scene from Our NewspaperIn most parts of Russia, people are too occupied by their struggle to survive to pay attention to politics or the news. Moreover, they are not interested in reading about frivolous fluff when they are facing serious issues. The Leninist is the regional state newspaper, but they are not writing about the people forced to go days without water or the villages snowed in for entire winters. Instead, they are more likely to report upon a pointless speech given by some local politician, in which most of its readership has no interest.

Andrei Schkolni is a journalist formerly employed by The Leninist. However, he became tired of the misplaced optimism that permeated the paper’s pages week after week. Therefore, he and his wife founded Our Newspaper to ensure the stories actually affecting the local population would receive coverage. It has twice as many pages as the The Leninist and publishes 7,000 copies a week, putting it in direct competition with the official state newspaper.

This documentary is about the stories Schkolni and his wife cover in Our Newspaper. Director Eline Flipse and her crew follow the journalists as they travel the countryside, interviewing mostly elderly villagers long forgotten by the government. They speak about their inability to bathe for an entire season because their water supply is broken and about tourists who come to enjoy nature only to tarnish it when they leave their trash behind. In addition, they profile “the bicycle ambulance,” which consists of a female doctor who makes house calls on two wheels in freezing temperatures.

The editor-in-chief of The Leninist is satisfied with his newspaper’s content, explaining that it strengthens patriotism. On the other hand, the local population prefers to read Our Newspaper because it contains information relevant to their every day existence. Schkolni doesn’t sugarcoat the water shortage or ignore the government’s failings only to report its victories. In fact, he almost never publishes a positive story because that’s the reality of the situation in which these people live – and they appear to appreciate this, patiently waiting for the publication’s delivery when Schkolni is behind schedule. There is mention of government reprisal because of Our Newspaper’s honest reporting, but it’s not really chronicled in the film even though it would have provided some stimulating conflict.

Our Newspaper is essentially an extended human interest story committed to film. It doesn’t have any significant peaks or valleys, or a goal to attain. In the end, it is a leisurely exploration of the strife people in this region encounter daily and the recognition of one couple’s efforts to ensure it doesn’t go unnoticed any longer.

Our Newspaper is playing as part of Hot Docs on Thursday, May 5 at 9:45 pm at Cumberland Theatre and Saturday, May 7 at 1:30 pm at the ROM Theatre.

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