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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Desert of Forbidden Art (2010)

The Desert of Forbidden Art (2010)
Director: Tchavdar Georgiev & Amanda Pope
Country: Russia, USA, Uzbekistan
Runtime: 80min




Trace the incredible story of defiant visionary Igor Savitsky, an artist and museum curator who cunningly acquired more than 40,000 banned Soviet Union paintings and hid the illegal collection from the KGB in Uzbekistan's Nukus Museum. In addition to rare archival footage and interviews with the artists' children, this absorbing documentary also features letters and diary entries read by Ben Kingsley, Sally Field and Edward Asner

…a film that will be of interest to art lovers. It is the story of an art collector of thousands of pieces in Uzbekistan. The collection is now housed in a museum located in the desert area of that country. The film does beautifully photograph many gorgeous paintings that have not been seen in the United States. For that reason alone it is worth viewing. And, there is some rare archival footage of the USSR during the 1930s.

…an awesome documentary that clearly was created by filmmakers quite skilled in the art and craft of storytelling. Crisply edited, poignantly shot...I look forward to watching it a second time soon. Plus, it was an amazing opportunity to have an intimate glimpse into a place on the planet that I would love to visit -- Uzbekistan. At once so exotic sounding, and yet after watching the film, it became so familiar ... or perhaps a little more understood ...

…an awesome documentary that clearly was created by filmmakers quite skilled in the art and craft of storytelling. Crisply edited, poignantly shot...I look forward to watching it a second time soon. Plus, it was an amazing opportunity to have an intimate glimpse into a place on the planet that I would love to visit -- Uzbekistan. At once so exotic sounding, and yet after watching the film, it became so familiar ... or perhaps a little more understood ...

…This film takes us in to the life and times of a remarkable man who single-handed saved thousands of paintings and objects that were hidden from the authorities following the Bolshevik uprising and consequent suppression of art, especially modern, expressionistic art, that was the avant garde of that time. Many of the artists themselves were sent to the gulag for nothing more than being free-thinking painters. Their paintings were either destroyed or hidden. All of this hidden art eventually found a home, when Savitsky realized many people had them hidden away and were willing to trust him. He himself had gone far into the desert of Uzbekistan to get away from the new regime, and it was here that he started his secret museum. It came to hold over 40,000 works of art, and now enjoys a unique status.

…No art history degree is required - this movie is story of the person, portrait of epoch - distant and the current one. 

Cinematographicaly the movie is very well shot, it is well researched - never seen materials from Russia's Krasnogorsk film archives are used. Quite unusual but completely on the point is the citation from the cult Russian movie "White Sun of the Desert" (1970) 

The movie is not trying to depict the Soviet era as 70 years of horrors - it rather shows that it's up to individual to find his/her way while being artistically (as I.Savitsky himself) or politically rejected.

The editing of this movie is done more in line with Russian film-making tradition - which makes viewer to be much more emotionally involved then your standard History channel movie.

Overall it's rare case when we have a worthy subject, the passionate filmmakers and the best intentions of the authors of the movie are perfectly aligned with their capabilities to deliver.

In a remote region of a remote Soviet republic there once lived Igor Savitsky, a museum curator. If his profession had saints he would be among the most revered. In his half century career he filled his museum with art that was often (literally) on the verge of disappearing onto the dust heap of history. Not only did he acquire these works of art; he paid for them, with state allocated funds. A true "holy fool" for art, he relentlessly sought pieces for his museum up to the time of his death, with almost no government interference. Savitsky's story is enough, but the film also examines the lives and work of some of the artists who owed their artistic existence and legacy to this amazing man. It is a well structured and remarkably apolitical documentary, utilizing some of the great living narrators in contemporary English language film. The love for art has rarely been so well represented in a documentary, not to mention that the actual works of art are absolutely stunning.

…A memorable documentary, an incredible story of how 44,000 unknown works of art came to be in a museum in Upper Uzbekistan, a film that combines elements of a spy story, fascinating history, dangerous quests and a fear of the future. Absolutely stunning. 

What is not in the film is that this collection is located in a secret, off-the-maps city where Soviets experimented with gas, germ and nuclear warfare, and that is another reason why the outside world does not know about the city or the museum that is in it. 

I will never forget the images of the art in this film, paintings equal to or better than those of Impressionists seen in books and other museums. And remember: only 400 of the 44,000 paintings have ever been photographed. Most have never been catalogued!!

As a movie reviewer and concerned citizen, I have been recommending this marvelous film to everyone interested in humanity, art, and history. 


…In the midst of a totalitarian dictatorship, an eccentric man risks his life and uses his wiles to save what he values far more than his society does. What, you mean you've already seen "Schindler's List?!" But what if, instead of saving people, the man just saved art - tons and tons of splendid art?

This amazing story, with characters as wild and bizarre and wonderful as any you'll see in any flick, is terrifying, heartwarming, funny, and hugely human. Even if you're not an art-lover, this tale tells so much about our times, there's no way to not be moved. 

It's both a good and bad thing that this came out in a time when there were so many important and excellent documentaries that this got ignored by the Oscars. It's a movie for everyone - take your grandmother and your kids. Cannot recommend it enough.

…This is an amazing film about hidden treasure that is so vulnerable. I hope that something can be done to save this art and bring it to the world. The paintings are so vivid; I will never forget them.



I went to the website: "desertofforbiddenart.com" and immediately made a contribution to the book of paintings being planned. 

It is ironic, that after so many years of hiding the works from Stalin, it is now, in the twenty-first century, that the paintings are in the most danger.

But it is not only viewing the paintings that made such an impression on me, but the stories of the forgotten artists. The world should know who they were, and the incredible sacrifices they made to be painters.

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