Who is Your City? Richard Florida. Part I

January 14, 2009 at 12:16 am

The title of this book (and its subtitle) — Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where You Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life
— really grabbed me. While I did not think that where to live would be the MOST important decision of my life, I knew for certain that in was one of the most important decisions one has to make from time to time. First, because being a migrant, I have had the chance to realise what a difference a place can make. Secondly, because I am in a stage of life when I have come to realise that, after several years of living in a quiet and beautiful small-town location, I may be wiser to prepare a move sometime in the next few years, once I enter the ’empty nester’ stage (in Florida’s classification).

Anyhow, I did not buy the book while in the US earlier in the year, as I first saw it at the shop of the Modern Art museum in Chicago where the price for the hardback was simply too high. I thought I would order it from Amazon when I get back home, an so I did. When it arrived, I eagerly jumped on to reading it: I did not want to delay any further the moment when I would get to prepare my next move and I thought the book may help me do this in an informed manner (especially as it promised a type of self-help part at the end, where it were to facilitate making a decision on the matter of who your city might be according to one’s personal circumstances).

I love the place where I currently live, as it perfectly fits my personal situation at the present stage. I ended up here not as a result of planning, but it could not have been a better choice. It is safe, homey, beautiful, has got great schools and I see my son thrive in a way he would not in another location. However, he will soon be eighteen, and even if he is still around after that time comes, I would be free to move myself. And, admittedly, I am somewhat tired to live in a conservation village on the seaside: nice and I would always love to keep this place, but not live here permanently.

Richard Florida’s book, thus, came with a great promise: it was meant to help clarify things and make enlightened decisions. A colleague had recommended it as well, albeit with some reservations. It was probably due to the high expectations I had vested, that a feeling of disappointment came about around midway of my reading, and then progressively took over entirely. Starting with the great promise of addressing matters of great importance and persuasively arguing that the decision where you would live may be a key to other things, the book then abandons its own premise and turns into a discussion of urban areas in the US, offering commentary that I found boring and monotonous for the most part. I should have simply stopped reading after the first part or so.

The biggest disappointment was the slump from the opening global perspective to the exclusive focus on the US. Well, probably most of Florida’s readers would be American, but if this was a book about them and for them, it should have been pitched as such. Not that this is the first book that I see making this slump. However, I am really sick and tired of the logically unsound and deeply problematic epistemological operation of silently equating the world with the US and then substituting the second for the first, which is still being performed by many American authors and scholars.

Indeed, we live in a global world and if Florida really wanted to show us how important the decision where to live is, he should have kept his discussion in the same vein he started off — globally. Yes, the world is not flat as Thomas Friedman has it but is spiky, as Florida is correct to point out. It is a global spikiness, however, and the biggest spikes of creative activity nowadays are scattered around the globe and are not only in North America but also in places like Europe, Asia, or Latin America. The real new creative class is not one that is limited to the US but one that moves between spikes, spending time not only in Silicon Valley and New York but in equally (if not more) important places like Tokyo or Hong Kong, Sydney and Milan, Rio and London.

Instead developing his argument along the lines he himself set out, instead of presenting the global moves of the creative class, what Florida does is to argue, in the theoretical part, with the help of all sorts of world-wide maps showing how not all places are equal, how there are ‘spikes’ where world’s creativity is clustering, and so on. Soon thereafter it is all forgotten and the author’s attention shrinks to the US exclusively (well, Toronto is also included as a place to where he has recently moved, apparently the biggest shift the author himself has undertaken in his search for the perfect location).

Yet the unspoken premise that the US is, by default, a more desirable country to live than other places, is precisely the one that needs to be questioned. Many of the locations that pop up in Florida’s discussion in parts three and four of his book have really got very little to do with the spikes of creative clusters that are discussed in earlier parts. Why did I spend all this time reading so far? To receive recommendations and lists of great places to live, such as East Lancing, MI? Been there, done that. True, in the context of the Wall-Mart/Best Buy/Starbucks/Hard Rock Cafe-dominated city scapes of America these may be acceptable places. Florida’s recommendations, however, have got little to do with the real decisions that members of the creative class are making on the matter where to live. Because nowadays an informed decision on these matters cannot possibly be limited to one country. And because, as it will transpire from the second part of my discussion, the coolest places to live, are actually located elsewhere. See Part II.

© Dina Iordanova
14 January 2009

Severino: The Secret of Condor Pass (GDR, 1978) Claus Dobberke

January 10, 2009 at 12:34 am

This Gojko Mitic vehicle from his later period is interesting to mostly as it represents yet another good example of the transnational filmmaking that was in full swing in the area of popular cinema in the Soviet bloc countries of the period. The actor is past his prime here, and even though he does pull some of his traditional stints of horseback riding and shows off his sculpted upper body on several occasions, it is more by way of giving fans a treat in a routine effort to maintain an established star image rather than an attempt to impress new audiences. (In a way, it is a film that can be compared to the fare that Tom Cruise is involved in these days — mostly relying on past glory rather than radical reinvention.)

The film is set in Argentina and is based on a novel by Eduard Klein. A mature and balanced man, Severino is a Manazanero Indian who has been away for ten years and now comes back to his village, ridden by conflict between the locals and the settlers, all evolving around the secret of a certain Condor pass (a climb to which provides one of the nicest moments in the film, with awe-inspiring views over the highest parts of the Andes). Severino does his best to settle the disputes and manages to do so, but only to some extent; he is also involved in a love affair, but it is an added subplot that lacks sparkle and does not engage. In the overall, the film feels tired and overlong, even for its short 78 minutes. There is very little character development, almost no gripping action, and the conflicts are not persuasive nor deep enough to engage. There is surprisingly little effort to propagate the cause of proletarian struggle (which is a feature of earlier films like Osceola); the advancing age of the actor and the early decline of socialism are both felt in the film.

Thus, as I said, the most interesting aspect for me remains the information that the film brings on the matter of international socialist co-productions. The cast of the film includes the titan of Polish cinema Leon Niemczyk, as well as a host of Romanian actors such as Constantin Fugasin or Violeta Andrei, as well as many more. The film is made by DEFA in collaboration with the Romanian Buftea Studio (and it is places in the Carpathian mountains that seem to stand in for the Andes). What is particularly important, however, is that it appears there is no consistent pattern in the co-production dimension in these DEFA projects. In other cases there is usually one co-production set-up that is put in place and then exploited all over again for as long as it is possible; it is simply not economic to have a new co-production configuration put in place on a per-project basis, especially if one already has got a set-up that is working. Yet, in the case of these productions, the films are shot in a different production configuration each time — Osceola is made in co-production with Cuba and Bulgaria, this one — with Romania, The Scout — with Mongolia, Ulzana — with Russia and Romania, The Sons of Great Bear — with Bosna film. It reads like a list of socialist international cultural collaborations. What is specific here is that the driving force behind many of these projects seems to be not so much economic convenience (nor financial considerations of pulling together budgets or resources) but rather the desire to be involved in joint projects with the group of ‘brotherly’ countries. This was the underlying motive of many of the cross-border cultural initiatives of the period, and it worked. It is important not to lose it out of sight today.

© Dina Iordanova
10 January 2009

Nie sme na vseki kilometar: A personal memoir

January 7, 2009 at 1:04 am

During a recent visit to my native city of Sofia, Bulgaria, I heard that the Socialist Party (formerly Communist Party) which had just held its 47th or so Congress, has been in the media with a clip using motives of the famous TV series Na vseki kilometar (1969). As this film is associated with a host of memories for me, I could not help it but searching for the clip on YouTube. Here is what emerged:

The man who jumps on the tram is actor Stefan Danailov, who played the lead role of Sergei/Major Deyanov in Na vseki kilometar. (The protagonist was an underground anti-fascist conspirator who always managed to outwit the police and pull off whatever he had planned to do.) There was a well-known episode in the original series where Sergei jumps on a tram, like in this present clip. Using the reconstruction of this familiar visual trope and casting the same actor, who is now nearly forty years older, is a good approach to the clip’s target audience, which consists of die-hard former communists and by those younger Bulgarians who, supposedly, believe in the continuity of the socialist tradition. Actor Danailov himself is now part of the governing coalition, and has enjoyed a relatively good reputation during his mandate as culture minister (prior to entering politics he was mostly busy appearing in various Italian productions, most notably as a bad guy in the seventh installment of Italian mafia TV series La Piovra). In the clip featured here, he talks to the ‘tram driver’ who is, in fact, Sergey Stanichev, the current socialist PM of Bulgaria, a guy of whom I have got no personal views as he has appeared on the country’s political scene in a period over which I have no immediate observations (my understanding is that he is some sort of typical aparatchik). Stanishev turns to Danailov, who is breathing heavily after having jumped on the tram in a well-familiar Sofia setting (‘tramvaycheto v gorichkata na Pionerskiya dvorets’), and comments: “Things are not like before, eh?” Danailov replies: “Well, they are not. Yet the ideas and the dreams remain the same!” An elderly man who is riding on the tram approaches, calls him ‘Sergei’ (the name from the TV series), and, hand on heart, confirms that he is all up for these same ideas and dreams. Inspiring indeed!

Now, I am still significantly younger than the two old men appearing in this video, yet I am old enough to have a host of memories triggered by the viewing of this clip. So maybe in a move of nostalgia, I went on checking if there was anything from the actual Na vseki kilometar on YouTube. And there was, to my surprise: a two-minute long clip featuring the opening scene and credits of the series (where also the well-known tune sounds). It is posted on YouTube by someone from Vietnam, who testifies as to the film’s popularity there (a theme in which I have persistent interest, namely the wide international exposure of some of the East European productions in the specific transnational context of the so-called Second and Third world, see comments in my piece on Estonian Viimne Reliikvia on these matters). Here it is:

Kosta Karageorgiev, the actor who appears here as the young shooter who is killed at the beginning, is also singing the song (a well-recognizable tune in the Bulgarian context; most folks of my generation would know the lyrics by heart). A Woody Allan look-alike, this bespectacled nondescript charmer enjoyed real popularity when I was a child (He was in many childrens’ programmes, known as ‘bate Kosta’; I see from the imdb he has died in 1998, which means that he has not lived beyond his mid-50s).

Karageorgiev was mostly a singer, and one of my earliest memories involves him. My mother was working in the childrens’ department of Radio Sofia at the time (must have been around 1965), and one day she took me to the studio with her; she was to be recording some songs for a radio show she was preparing. The singer she was working this day happened to be Kosta Karageorgiev (who was already a well known TV personality alongside the ubiquitous bat’ Climbo, Kliment Denchev, who was painting on glass in the show and later disappeared by emigrating to Canada, where he also largely disappeared for the artistic profession).

I must have been about 6 years old. The actor approached me and asked me what was my name, and I replied ‘Kostadina’ (my full name). To which he said: ‘Hm, how is it possible then that we have not known each other so far if we have the same name (‘adashi’), all people by the same given name must know each other.’ I was smitten and extremely pleased at the same time. I had never heard anything like this until then, so I took what he said by face value: it would be, indeed, great, if all people by the same given name knew each other. It was only a few years later that I realized this was not really the case. Still, even today I sometimes hear myself producing the same comment when I see children who share the same name — maybe because the friendly comment of the actor back in my childhood is so deeply entrenched in my early memories.

The other personal memory linked to Na vseki kilometar must be from around 1968. We lived in Lozenetz; the house was at the bottom of a hill-street on which a tram runs. One day the traffic was blocked for the same of a film shoot. I was all happening opposite our house, so I was able to look on as much as I wanted. This is the first time I had the chance to see how films are made and to realize how many takes one does for a single sequence in a film. The scene represented a tram descending the steep street, and a young man jumping out of it while the tram is in full motion. They shot probably more than twenty times the same thing: the tram would ascend the hill and then head down down, and the actor would jump out of it at one point, and run parallel to the tram until the acceleration of the tram’s motion wore off. And then all over again and again. I cannot say who was the young man jumping out of the tram. It might have been Stefan Danailov himself (he was an unknown young actor at the time, so I could not have possibly recognize him; he only became a well-known face after the huge popularity of the series), or it might have been a double. I was, of course, looking to see the scene when the film aired on TV, but I do not think I ever saw it. They may have removed it, thus deleting the celluloid equivalent to this memorable day of my life altogether. In any case, I will always remember the sweet feeling I had on that day while looking on, of being part of something in the making that was to come on later, of witnessing the process of creating a film. Who knows, it might have been experiences like this that have led me to become who I am today: an on-looker, a critic.

As to the series itself, I do not remember many details. In my mind, it links with the Romanian films by Sergiu Nicolaescu on Inspector Moldovan — not because the plot or protagonists were the same, but the spirit, the exploitation of the policier genre (and also because I have seen these more recently than Na vseki kilometar). There was this good looking, sleek and superior Sergei/Deyanov, who always outsmarted the cops. There was the unforgettably popular peasant-partisan Mitko Bombata, played by beloved comedian Grigor Vachkov, some of whose lines in the series would then enter into wide for popular circulation. And, of course, there was the intelligent cerebral policeman Velinski, played by respected theatre actor Georgi Cherkelov (this was such a superb performance that the actor, who was mostly known in the capital as he was playing in theatre, and not across the country, was regularly being referred to not by his real name, but by the name of the protagonist whom he played in the series, so high was the degree to which audiences were identifying him with the role). Otherwise, the film was a typical historical propaganda fare, painting the resistance pretty much in black and white and remaining silent on all the awkward issues related to the period of WWII and its aftermath. What else can one expect from the Sixteenth Soviet republic in 1969? (I hear that this is a period where all the countries in the East of Europe have lived through ideological stagnation which reflected their reaction of well-grounded fear from the iron grip of the Soviets in the aftermath of the Prague invasion). In any case, back then this would not have been my assessment as I had no clue of any of these contextual aspects; I have become aware of them at a much later point. As far my personal recollection for back then is concerned, I was a child enjoying the entertainment that was on offer. And it was fun.

© Dina Iordanova
7 January 2009

A comprehensive bibliography of film festival scholarship

January 4, 2009 at 4:18 pm

A very useful annotated bibliography on scholarship related to Film Festivals has been made available by Marijke de Valck and Skadi Loist at the web-site of the University of Hamburg in Germany. It can be accessed here.

Poster for the St. Barth inaugural film festival, 2006