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Alumni Salons: Summing up 2018

Year 2018 has brought Fulbright alumni together on many occasions. Summer schools, round tables, exhibitions and local gatherings supported by the Fulbright Small Grants Program - all of these have been arranged by the enthusiastic Fulbrighters all around Russia. In Moscow, Fulbrighters had a chance to meet on a larger scale, during the 45th Anniversary Conference, as well as in a smaller environment of evening salons at the Fulbright office. Alumni salons were created as a more private, more chamber-like alternative to formal meetings, which gives the Fulbrighters an additional platform to catch up on each other's projects and aspirations.

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The last alumni salon of 2018 took place on December 26. It was a collaborative storytelling experience by three young U.S. Fulbright Fellows, currently working on their research projects in Moscow. Anna Perkins, Ariella Katz and Timmy Straw shared their perspective on celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah far from home, outside their usual social circle and in a whole new country with its own traditions. Russian alumni in turn eagerly shared tips and stories on how to spend upcoming New Year holidays and reminisced about their own celebrating far from home in the U.S. while on a Fulbright grant. Much like a holiday, it was a quiet family-like gathering, with Christmas music hits, delicious gingerbread cookies and a heartwarming conversation between Fulbrighters.

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A bit earlier, on November 15, 2018, the Fulbright office in Moscow arranged another alumni salon, this time hosted by Cynthia Madansky, current U.S. Fulbright Scholar in St. Petersburg, artist and filmmaker. Cynthia's films engage with cultural and political themes and have screened at multiple international festivals. At the salon Cynthia presented her ESFIR documentary, showing its first footage along with reading aloud the script, which gave the salon an atmospheric and mysterious feel. Later Cynthia revealed a few more details on the ESFIR project, her artistic path and filmmaking process (see the interview below).

Did you always want to be an artist?
I was always drawing and taking photographs, but I envisioned myself studying medicine. At eighteen, in my first year of University, I took a philosophy of feminism course (in the late 70s) and made a very complicated 40 min 16mm film based on text by Simone de Beauviour from the “The Second Sex”. But only at twenty-three did I shift my life completely to making art. Since then my focus has been drawing, painting and filmmaking.

Describe your filmmaking process.
I work in 16mm and super 8mm film making work that integrates hybrid forms of cinematic traditions including autobiography, experimental methodologies, cinema verité, scripted narrative, documentary, as well as dance and performance. Each film project demands a very specific methodology, structure and process for making the work.

Why did you decide to become a Fulbright Scholar?
After spending a summer at the CEC ArtsLink Back Apartment Residencies program in St. Petersburg I knew that I needed to be here in order to make ESFIR and thought that the Fulbright was the perfect academic and creative fellowship for this project.

What will ESFIR be about?
ESFIR is a contemporary reinterpretation of an unrealized script entitled Women by the Soviet director Esfir Shub. Shub’s script was written in 1933 and presents a utopian portrayal of women after the Bolshevik Revolution. My interpretation is a hybrid script with performances based on narratives co-written with the performers that present four topics from the script that are universally relevant to women: labor, sex work, motherhood and the other (a marginalized position). ESFIR will also integrate excerpts from the original script, documentary material, archival footage from Shub’s work as well as selections from the incredible rich body of feminist performance and video art in Russia from the 60s until today.

What issues or elements of Russian reality do you hope to capture with this film?
I am hoping that ESFIR will firstly be a tribute and homage to Esfir Shub, her legacy and a compelling interpretation of her unrealized script. The voices of the women presented in the film will convey stories that are definitely not heard in mainstream media, and of course too need to be heard.

How do you think this film will resonate with audiences on a global scale?
For many people ESFIR will be an introduction to Esfir Shub, a very important and revered compilation film editor as well as a director.

What are your impressions about Russia and Russians now that you’ve lived here for a while?
I feel very at home in St. Petersburg, I love the city and feel incredibly engaged in the very rich cultural life here. The process of working on this film in this city is an essential part of the project. St. Petersburg is in fact one of the main protagonists of ESFIR.

What do you think of the value of the Fulbright program?
The Fulbright program is simply brilliant. As a second generation Fulbrighter (my father had one in the 1980s) I can only speak words of praise for this program and stress how important it is for cultural exchange between Americans and people around the world. The Fulbright office in Russia has been so helpful and I have had very meaningful exchange with other research fellows and scholars who are here.

What will you plan to do after finishing the ESFIR project?
I have a number of film projects in development. Let’s see what is next!

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Moscow Fulbright office will continue the tradition of hosting evening salons for alumni in 2019. Salon ideas and prompts are always welcome! If you are a Fulbrighter with a project that might be of interest to the members of the Fulbright community, please contact and discuss it with Ksenia Shomnikova, Alumni Coordinator at Moscow office.

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Photos by the Moscow Fulbright office, ESFIR images by Cynthia Madansky.

Программа Фулбрайта в Российской Федерации. Институт Международного Образования.
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