Spirit of Genius, Fyodor Khitruk and His Films, The

Anyone who associates the term animated film merely with children’s entertainment knows little about the artistitc diversity of this genre. Since the beginning of film history, animated films have gradualy evolved as an independent art form, undergoing their own, largely unknown development.

The Spirit of Genius introduces us to part of this terra incognita in film history, presenting us with what is both a sensitive and fascinating portrait of one of the last great figures in the international animated film scene: Russian film-maker Fedor Khitruk.

Born 1st May 1917, Fedor Khitruk is not only a witness of this century and Russian history, he is first and foremost the founding father of post-Stalinist animated films in the Soviet Union, a genre which he has helped achieve world-wide recognition since the beginning of the sixties. Generations of children have him to thank for their first and most impressive visual experiences, and generations of students are still inspired by his films.

Winner of several state prizes and numerous festival awards (Cannes, Leipzig, New York, Venice, Oberhausen), Khitruk is greatly admired in Russia today. The film traces the reasons for this veneration. This is obviously a man who succeeded in practising a humane form of socialism in an authoritarian state, making this is a key theme in his films-in spite of various privileges and his status as a functionary. With his sensitive understanding of the pleasures and worries-big and small-of people living under state socialism, Khitruk legitimised the animated film politically and socially as an art form, an art form that offered greater political scope than other artistic fields. Some of the big names in this trade, such as Yuri Norstein, have him to thank for the fact that they were able to work undisturbed for so many years.

The Spirit of Genius traces not only Khitruk’s life and his enthusiasm for the German culture but also focuses on his understanding of art and culture as a basis for his cosmopolitanism which inevitably led him to the animated film. It is interesting to note that throughout his life, Khitruk’s animated fantasy world revolved around a fixed star by the name of Disney, even though he rejected the moralising tone in favour of enlightenment. But this is not the contradiction it might at first seem, as we see if we compare Khitruk with another icon of Russian film art: Sergei Eisenstein. Apart from interviews with numerous students and colleagues of Khitruk’s main works: History of a Crime, Man in Frame, Winnis the Pooh, and Film, Film, Film.

Germany, 1998

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