What Russians think of Australia and how cinema can help


A Russian-born Australian professor is using the FIFA World Cup as an opportunity to bridge the divide between the two countries of his heritage through the power of film.

To say Greg Dolgopolov is passionate about cinema is an understatement.

The Russian-born Australian is a University of New South Wales professor and is this week in Moscow where he’s spruiking Australian cinema to Russian film buffs as the country hosts the 2018 Fifa World Cup. 

After delivering a lecture in Russian to about 50 onlookers in a bookstore in the centre of Moscow, he says he’s trying to key into the image of Australia as a mysterious land, far away that many hopeful travellers feel when they think about Australia.

“There’s been an endless fascination with Australia. Australia is kind of part of the fantasy world of most Russians. So that connection is cultural and spiritual,” he says.

 Crocodile Dundee
A scene from 1986 film Crocodile Dundee.

Professor Dolgopolov is touring Russia with a first of its kind Australian short film festival called Short and Sweet, in cooperation with the Australian embassy in Russia.

The program includes some of the most iconic Australian short films, with screenings held in Moscow, Kazan, Samara, Sochi, Novosibirsk, Tolyatti.

Professor Dolgopolov says it aims to show Russians another side to Australia.

“There’s an Indigenous revenge western for example,” he says. “There’s an enormous variety of films that represent the kind of multicultural, multi-idea fascination with Australia.”

And those listening seem to be learning something.

“There are not only kangaroos there,” said one audience member.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Gramercy Pictures

But Professor Dolgopolov says the festival is about more than just retelling the story of Australia through film. It’s also about showing Russians that Australians can make good cinema.

“We’ve connected Australian crew members with Russian film directors who’ve then gone to Russia to work on their films and have been key contributors and collaborators. So it’s making those connections that is important and then the structures will fall into place after that,” he says.

The organisation that helped put on the Short and Sweet festival, CoolConnections, sees Russia as a growing market for Australian filmmakers.

“Actually Russian audiences really like Australian cinema because two years ago we held a festival of Australian cinema where we presented the Dressmaker and it was very successful,” says Natalia Goncharova from CoolConnections.

“A year ago we had a festival dedicated to Heath Ledger by screening a documentary about him and some other old films casting him.

Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Professor Dolgopolov says film can also help Australians and Russians communicate better during a testing time for diplomatic relations between the countries.

He’s calling for structural changes to the Australian film industry to maximise storytelling on the global stage. 

“We need more stories, we need longer development time, we need structures to support that development, we need bureaucrats who are knowledgeable in the film industry and when they see scripts they see through them and support films that are not just social issues films but films that will have an audience,” he says.

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